4/1/18: Why Are You Weeping? John 20:1-18
Why Are You Weeping?
Last in the series: Crucial Questions
First Lesson: Isaiah 25:6-9
Second Lesson: John 20:1-18
Rev. Scott Dickison
As the story goes, years ago, Carlyle Marney, one of our most brilliant if not occasionally grumpy Baptist preachers, was speaking at a Christian college when a student asked, Dr. Marney, would you say a word or two about the resurrection of the dead? Marney replied,
I will not discuss the resurrection with people like you: I don’t discuss such things with anyone under 30. Look at you all: in the prime of life. Never have you known honest-to-God failure, heartburn, impotency, solid defeat, brick walls or mortality. You’re extremely apt and handsome white kids who have never in all of your lives been 30 miles from home, or 20 minutes into the New Testament, more than a mile and a half from a Baptist or Methodist church, or within a thousand miles of any issue that mattered to a kingdom that matters. So what can you know of a world that makes sense only if Christ is raised?
I’m glad to have made the cut—just barely. Probably best not to interpret his age limit too literally, but as grumpy he surely was, Marney was right about at least one thing: the resurrection is not something you can talk about in a word or two. Which is a problem for a world that too often settles for and even expects soundbite answers. And before we blame it on the kids, remember this question was asked 50 years ago. The truth is we’ve long believed that if it can’t be read in a headline it’s not worth reading. In fact, they way I hear it, what Marney meant to say was that words—no matter how many you say—aren’t the best vehicle for talk of resurrection at all. Resurrection is first and best spoken of not in words, but in tears, and the gospels remind us this has been true since that first resurrection morning.
Why are you weeping? Mary is asked, not once, but twice is this resurrection story.
Woman, why are you weeping? the angels ask her as she kneels down and looks into the tomb where Jesus’ body no longer lay—Isn’t it obvious? Her savior and Lord had just days before been brutally executed and now his body was not where it was supposed to be! The tomb was empty! Of course she was crying. She answers them, They’ve taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they’ve laid him, and the gospel of John tells us she turns and sees Jesus standing there—though she mysteriously doesn’t recognize it was him. Jesus looks at her and repeats the angel’s question, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?
Over the season of Lent we considered different questions from Scripture with the idea that good questions, maybe even more than answers, are a more honest way of talking about the gospel. But what’s even more true is that there are moments, gospel moments, where words fail us—questions and answers alike. Moments, as the Psalmist writes where “Deep calls out to deep.” Moments, as the Apostle Pauls puts it, when we “do not know how to pray as we ought,” and so “the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words.” There are some things that are simply beyond the words available to us for them:
Things like birth.
Things like death.
Full moons and baptisms.
Cancer and divorce.
Weeping is one of these things. Maybe not crying or just any old tears. But weeping is absolutely one of these things.
And so is resurrection.
Which is why, with apologies to Dr. Marney, as I look around the room this morning I know you’re just the kind of people with whom I’d discuss such things. Because I know that you know something of this world of which he speaks, this world that makes sense only if Christ is raised. You know some small but essential thing about this world, because you, too, have wept. You’ve cried real tears. And it’s these tears that have prepared you to speak of resurrection, and it’s these tears, as much as anything, that have brought you here this morning, and any other time you’ve found yourself among God’s people in a church or elsewhere in the world.
Frederick Buechner writes, “As much as it is our hope, it’s our hopelessness that brings us to church on a Sunday.” We’re drawn out to the deep waters of life not as much by joy as by sorrow, not fulfillment, but our restlessness, our longing for something more and our sensing that it’s out there, somewhere, perhaps even in someone. And in the same way, we’re not led to the truth of resurrection—the moment of catharsis, of great release, in God’s drama of love that unfolds in the pages of scripture and the moments and days of your life and mine and our common life together—we’re not led to the empty tomb by our successes, we’re led there by our failures.
Not so much our comforts but our pain.
Not so much our gain but our loss.
Not so much our laughter as by our tears.
It’s why the prophet Isaiah, whom we heard earlier, in imagining a time when the Lord will come and right all wrongs and make us all whole again, says, “tears will then be wiped from all faces.” In other words, God comes to us in our weeping. Put another way: we will first see God through our tears.
It was true for Mary that first resurrection morning.
John tells us Mary didn’t immediately see that it was Jesus standing in front of her, mistaking him even for the gardener. Some have wondered if it was because it was too dark—which is possible. We’re told she when she came out to the tomb it was early in the morning the first day of the week, “while it was still dark.” And this is how it is sometimes. Sometimes the darkness does keep us from seeing the risen Christ.
Sometimes the anxiety is too consuming.
The depression too deep.
The future too uncertain.
The news too depressing.
Sometimes that darkness does keep us from seeing the risen Christ before us—Amen?
Others have said that along with the darkness, it was her tears that kept Mary from recognizing Christ when he first called to her. This, too, is how it is sometimes. Sometimes our tears keep us from seeing the risen Christ. Sometimes the sorrow is too deep.
The pain too severe.
The loss too great.
Sometimes our tears do keep us from seeing the risen Christ standing before us, which is why what happens next is such an essential part of that first resurrection story: though her tears and the darkness that surrounded them may have first kept Mary from seeing the risen Christ, they did not, they could not, keep the risen Christ from seeing her.
Darkness be damned, and seeing her pain, Christ continues to call her, this time by name, and it’s then, upon hearing the divine call out to her by her own name, that Mary knows immediately who it is, knows immediately, we might say, who she is. And in that moment—and this may be the real miracle of that morning—in that moment, it was not just Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead, but Mary. And not just Mary, but anyone who has ever found themselves sitting in the darkness unable to see, anyone who’s eyes have been covered with real tears. In other words, you were raised that morning—Did you know this?
Haven’t you known this? Hasn’t it been those moments of pain that have given way to joy deeper than you knew was possible?
Isn’t it true what the poet Mary Karr says, that as deep the wound is, that’s how deep the healing can be? Think how deep the wound of death…
Haven’t you known this to be true?
And haven’t you known it for some time?
Our middle son, Sidney, who is 3, has taken on a new “practice,” we’ll call it, when even the slightest infraction has been committed against him—one of his brothers will take a toy he’s playing with, or some other such injustice, and he’ll throw his head back and wail, and the tears will flow and he’ll say, “You’re breaking my heart!”
And this is the miraculous thing about children, that it’s true. Children feel things so deeply. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t been in it all that long, but the world, in their eyes, is dynamic. The highs are so high and the lows are so low. And of course, there will come a time for him to grow out of this and manage his emotions in an age appropriate way. But my God I hope he doesn’t lose all of it.
I hope he doesn’t lose the ability to feel deeply.
I hope he doesn’t lose the capacity to cry real tears.
I hope his heart never stops breaking for all the right things.
If I can do one thing as his father, let it be to give him permission to know his own heart.
Haven’t we known this to be true? That however deep the wound is, that’s how deep the healing can be? That when the risen Christ first appears to us, we will see him through our tears?
In his poem, The Simple Truth, Philip Levine writes these words:
you know all your life. They are so simple and true they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme, the must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker, the glass of water, the absence of light gathering in the shadows of picture frames, they must be naked and alone, they must stand for themselves…
Can you taste what I’m saying?
It is onions or potatoes, a pinch of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious, it stays in the back of your throat like a truth you never uttered because the time was always wrong, it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken, made of the dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt, in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.
Some things you know all your life.
I believe this is true.
Onions or potatoes, the wealth of melting butter—yes. How about the warmth of kindness.
The touch of gentleness.
The buoyancy of hope
The relief of forgiveness.
The necessity of love.
The truth of resurrection.
The promise of something more.
The hope for something greater. The deep, deep knowledge that in the end—in the end—there is only love.
I think we know this. Not completely, and not every day, and rarely, it seems, can we seem remember it when we need it the most.
Some days. And given enough time, we hope, more days than not.
But we do know it, I think.
Matt Marston is a good friend of mine and pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church down in Moultrie, Georgia. He and his wife, Elizabeth, received the unspeakable news last year that their 4 year old daughter, Lena, has a rare and serious childhood cancer. Since then they’ve been driving across the state, spending days at a time in hospitals, learning about things no one wants to know. They’re about 8 months into her 10 month treatment, and feel hopeful about her recovery and longterm health. But earlier this week I was reading Matt’s blog to keep friends and family up to date on her treatments and their journey, and he shared an exchange he and his daughter had this week. She crawled in his lap and looked at him out of the blue and said to him, "Daddy, I know more than you think I know.”
“I’m not sure what she meant,” he said, “but I’m not surprised.
Can you taste what I’m saying?
You know more than you think you know about this world that makes sense only if Christ is raised.
This world of full moons, crisp April mornings, and childhood cancer.
This world of lovers embracing, of lilies blooming, and school shootings.
This world of complexity and texture, and the fear of difference that would flatten it all out.
This world of children laughing, old folks dancing, and honest-to-God failure.
This world hope and potential and brick walls.
This world of bread and of cup and of crosses.
It’s all of these things.
All of them.
It’s the world that makes sense only if Christ is raised.
And to live in it—to live in this world, to breathe this air, to feel this earth, to see this sky, to cry these tears—is to know something of the dawn that waits beyond the darkness,
Something of the Christ that’s standing just outside the tomb,
Something of the love that’s just beyond death.
Something of the laughter that’s beyond tears.
Something of the God that’s behind all of it.
To live in this world is to know something of resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, if you leave there this morning knowing one thing, may it be that you know something of this world that makes sense only if Christ is raised, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Why are you weeping? they asked her.
Isn’t it obvious?
The tomb was empty.
 Kyle Childress, The Christian Century (Nov. 2, 2010): 20
 Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale, 55