Woman, Why Are You Weeping
When I read about Mary setting out while it was still dark, I get it. Given the circumstances, I wouldn't have been able to sleep either.
I know this because I can’t sleep now. I admit, some of that has to do with being a woman of a certain age.
Yeah. But it’s more than that.
The truth is, I know what it’s like to be awake in the wee hours of the morning sick with grief and worry. And after all we’ve been through together, I know many of you do, too.
So it’s not hard to imagine Mary tossing and turning, is it? Tossing and turning Saturday into Sunday, before finally giving up, getting out of bed, and heading out to the tomb.
Nor is it hard to imagine why she assumed the worst when she saw the stone rolled away. Grave robbers. Desecration. Some fresh, new humiliation.
Because here is the thing: Most of us walk around from day to day as if we’re immune to tragedy. We don’t think about all the things that could go wrong when we roll out of bed or step out of the shower or get behind the wheel of our car in the morning, because if we did we’d be incapacitated.
But when the bad things you never thought would happen to you actually do, all of a sudden, you realize that you’re not immune. And then the opposite can happen.
Having suffered one blow, you just assume the hits will keep on coming. You’re not shocked when things go from bad to worse. In fact, in the midst of your grief, you start to expect it.
I’m afraid the last 3-7 years have had that effect on a lot of us and I think that is exactly how Mary and the disciples are feeling by Sunday morning. You’d think Jesus being crucified would be the worst thing, but an empty tomb? The idea that his body was not just dead now, but gone? It was an awful thought, but there was a certain grim logic to it.
Mary has lost her beloved teacher, and she is in so much pain that she’s more receptive to the idea of things getting worse than she is open to the idea of anything getting better.
So she runs to tell Peter and the beloved disciple: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the other disciple immediately run all the way to the garden to see for themselves and find that lo and behold, Mary is telling the truth.
Which is why the whole Church, from its humble beginnings to this very day, has always trusted and valued the testimony of women…
Well, in any case, the tomb is as empty as she claimed. There is no body. Just the grave clothes unraveled. The face covering rolled up neatly and set to the side; which is weird and confusing. But what can you do? What more is there to say? Peter and the other disciple return home as confounded as ever.
But Mary stays. She lingers, weeping, and as she weeps she bends down to look once more and lo and behold what does she see, but angels…angels sitting right where Jesus had been laid. One presumes they weren’t there a moment ago or Peter and the other disciple would have noticed them…right?
But they’re here now, and although this story will forever raise more questions than it will answer, I think it’s worth asking …why? Why does Mary see angels where the others do not?
So I did some digging, as I am wont to do, and although no one can say anything for sure, I love what N.T. Wright thinks about all of this. He wonders if Mary saw the angels because, unlike Peter and the other disciple, she didn’t just run off, but allowed herself to stand there and weep.
Wright wonders if “we can only see angels through our tears…” (“John for Everyone: Part Two,” p 146)?
And I have to say, I think there is something to that.
“When people are afraid,” he says, “angels…tell them not to be.” But when people are in tears, angels don’t tell them to stop crying. When people are in tears, “the angels simply ask (them) why.”
In this case, I’m sure they already knew the answer, but the angels listen anyway as Mary details once again what she has lost. “They have taken away my Lord,” she cries, “and I do not know where they have laid him.”
The angels know why she is weeping, but isn’t it beautiful that they ask anyway? The angels know why she is weeping, but isn’t it beautiful that they allow her to say?
And so Wright encourages us, even and especially on this triumphal day of celebration, to be more like Mary and the angels.
He encourages us to not rush off or rush on like Peter and the other disciple, but to pause here in the garden… to stand and weep and ask and listen…listen to one another as we share what has been taken from us in these days so full of grief and worry:
a partner, a home, a beloved parent or child….
a sense of safety or dignity or purpose…
our health, our rights, our independence.
It’s good, says Wright, “to say it out loud.”
What have you lost in these days?
What has been taken from you?
It is good of us to ask.
It is good for us to listen.
Because no one, not a one of us, gets through this life without losing something.
And today, of all days, it is good to know that there is room for our grief even in the midst of the resurrection, room for us right here in the garden beside Mary, space enough for her tears and space enough for ours.
Friends, there is something holy in our tears. Indeed, it is our grief that bring us here. For is it not loss that sets Easter into motion?
This may be the day when we proclaim that there is no death without resurrection- Alleluia! Amen! - but this is also a day when we must acknowledge that the opposite is also true.
There is no resurrection without death.
There is no healing without hurt….
no redemption without loss…
no forgiveness without sin.
We have all suffered and we have all caused suffering.
We have all lost someone and not a one of us knows exactly where they are right now. Not a one of us can go and find them and bring them back.
Which means that Easter begins for each and every one of us while it is still dark.
Easter begins for each and every one of us right here in the garden while we yet weep.
And friends - dare I say it? - I believe Easter begins for each and every one of us with a choice; a choice between the grim logic of despair, the belief that things having gone bad will only ever get worse, or the choice to believe that having begun something good in us and through us and all around us, God still can and will redeem it all.
Because I have hurt others and been hurt…because I have loved and lost…I choose to believe that there is something more and I dare say that your presence here this morning means that you do too.
I choose to believe that there is something holy at the heart of it all; something holy in all of us and all of this, something worth saving.
When all is said and done, I do not believe that death or hate or sin will get the last word. I do not believe that things having gone bad will only ever get worse.
No. I believe that love and life and grace will get the last word. I believe there is something more on the other side of our grief and regret…because, my friends, I believe …her.
I believe in the resurrection because I believe in Mary.
I believe in her testimony.
I believe her when she says, “I have seen the Lord!”
I think N.T. Wright is on to something when he says that we can only see angels through our tears. I think there are truths so big that only a broken heart can hold them…
and her heart…
her heart was as broken as a heart can be.
I believe in Mary, because I think it took nothing less than the love of angels and the presence of the risen Christ to put her back together that first Easter morning and send her forth with love. And I believe that love and that presence is here amongst us even now, even still.
Friends, this grand celebration of resurrection - all of these flowers and the trumpet and the bells - is not just for those of us who are good or joyful or faithful… it is for all those of us who doubt too. It is for all of us who mourn. It is for all of us who need to be forgiven.
I think you need to be broken open to hold a hope this grand. I think you need to be acquainted with sorrow to have any sense of what today really means.
And I know so many of you are. And I know so many of you do.
So stay, won’t you, even and especially if you are hurting. Hold a moment here, for your tears are holy and these angels, this Christ, this hope is for you.
Stay till you too can see them. Stay until you can hear your name the way Mary heard hers.
Stay until you know, just as she did, even if only for a moment, how precious you truly are. How gently you are held. How much you are loved. … that Christ returned not just for her, but for you. And may this knowing put you back together such that you can carry this love forth the way she did, a love with the power to heal not just your heart, but all the world.
I wish you a Happy Easter, dear ones, even and especially in your tears. Amen.