A Sermon on John 20:1-18, with allusions to Psalm 30 and Matthew 5:4
No wonder Mary Magdalene just stood there weeping! She was lost. She didn’t know which way to go or what to do next. When Jesus healed Mary back in Galilee, he had given her life a direction. Jesus had reoriented, reshaped, and redirected her life. From then on she had served in the company of women who traveled with Jesus and provided for him out of their resources.
On Friday, Mary stood close to the cross, watching the crucifixion, watching Jesus die, watching Joseph and Nicodemus take his body down from the cross. What enabled her to get from Friday and through the Sabbath to Sunday was anticipating doing what loved ones do in those first days after someone dies: go to the grave. As soon as the Sabbath was over and sacred law permitted, before it was even light, Mary made her pilgrimage. What a shock when she got there: the grave was open, and the body was gone!
Mary hurried to report this news to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. These two ran to see for themselves, looking in, going in, and examining the linens that had shrouded the corpse. The beloved disciple—who we think may have written this Gospel—began to trust that God might be up to something, though neither disciple yet understood the scriptures that said Jesus must rise. They rubbed their eyes and went home shaking their heads, trying to make sense of it. But Mary stayed. She stood there, bending to look inside. She couldn’t stop crying. She was lost. So were they all.
Which way do you go when everything falls apart? The loss of loved ones in death can certainly leave you feeling disoriented. So can a lost job, lost marriage, lost health, lost dreams, anything life-altering, anything that changes or even obliterates the future you had imagined for yourself. Lost! Which way to go now?
No wonder Mary Magdalene just stood outside the tomb, weeping! Now that the body was missing, there wasn’t even a grave site to visit, some place to put flowers and remember.
But Mary was not alone. When she bent down to look inside the tomb, she saw two angels in white, one at the head and the other at the foot where Jesus’ body had been. According to John, instead of dropping the announcement of the resurrection on Mary, the angels simply asked her what was wrong. “Why are you crying?” they asked, inviting her to tell them her story. And she did. “Because somebody has taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they put him!”
Turning away from the mouth of the grave, Mary then saw Jesus himself. But she wasn’t able to recognize him. We might expect Jesus immediately to say, “Don’t cry! It’s me!” But he did the same thing the angels did. Jesus asked, “Why are you crying? Whom are you looking for? What’s wrong? What’s hurting you?”
Jesus’ tone is gentle. Jesus didn’t say, “What’s the matter with you? Stop blubbering! Don’t you remember what I said?” Jesus’ tone is inviting. Jesus asked Mary to tell him what’s wrong, and then he listened while she told him.
Understandably, Mary thought the figure before her must be the caretaker of the garden. “Sir, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”
Sometimes we are not so gentle with one another or with ourselves, and we speak abruptly: “Stop crying! Get over it! Don’t you know everything’s going to be alright? Christians shouldn’t grieve!”
But the angels and Jesus himself were gentle with Mary. They listened to her. And then Jesus revealed his identity to her in a very gentle way. No loud, brassy announcement to startle her unnecessarily. Jesus simply called her by name, something she had heard him do many times before. “Mary.”
Suddenly the lost one was found. Mary did not know where to find Jesus, but he certainly knew where to find her. Her eyes cleared. Hope was born again. “My teacher!” she cried—this time in joy.
Surely the risen Christ does that now. The living Lord Jesus approaches his people weeping in the darkness, lost, not knowing which way to go, some believing there is no way to go, there is no future. He approaches these wounded folk with respect and gentleness, and asks, “Why are you crying? Tell me what’s wrong.”
People of God, what is hurting you, or someone you care about? What’s weighing on your heart? “Why are you weeping,” Christ Jesus asks. “Tell me all about it.” It is okay to cry. It is okay to mourn. No one understands the need to weep better than the one who himself wept when he saw the terrible damage wrought by sin and selfishness, arrogance and stubbornness, the one who wept when he saw the anguish wrought by death. Yes, there is a time to weep. But it doesn’t last forever. It lasts for the night, and then the day dawns.
When we travel through a long dark night, through the very valley of the shadow of death, we may not be able to find Jesus. But the living Lord always knows where to find us, and he always knows our names, every one.
Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh, Jesus said. Weeping lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning, and it’s Easter. It’s Easter, and listen: That’s your name he is calling. Time to come to the table.
Thanks be to God!