Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Why are you Weeping
Easter Sunrise, a sermon for early Easter morning, preached April 17, 2022 at the 700am sunrise worship
Too often in church, we can skip over the tough stuff. And that risk is very great on Easter. One Sunday, we are processing up the aisle waving Palm Branches, and we are hearing about the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city, where he is greeted with Hosannas and treated like a king. Then next Sunday, we are hunting Easter Eggs, and singing Halleluias, because Jesus is risen, alive!
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, are the tough stuff of Easter week... and I think we often skip over it on purpose. It makes us very uncomfortable. Those days remind us how Jesus sat with his disciples around a table, and took bread and broke it, and poured a cup, like he we be broken and poured out. He washed their feet, teaching them to be humble like servants in the world. Jesus was betrayed by those who said they loved him and would follow him, yes Judas, but also Peter. Jesus was arrested, questioned, and tortured by the religious and political leaders. The people who cheered him last weeked begged for Barrabas to be released, and insisted Jesus be crucified. They watched as Jesus died, on a cross, was wrapped in spices and cloths, and buried in a tomb…
We can’t rightfully read this morning’s Easter text unless we remind each other about that. So, now, let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…
Scripture John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb.4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and Peter went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and he believed;9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look* into the tomb;12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,* ‘Rabbouni?’ (which means Teacher).17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is the word of the Lord… (Thanks be to God)
Sermon Why are you Weeping
In “Star Trek”, Spock is the pointy-eared Vulcan with the gift of enhanced intellect and reason. He can survey a situation, analyze the facts and data, and come away with all the possible logical conclusions. Whenever their problem was scientific or technical, Spock was the right person to have on the landing party, and to listen to. In those situations, the passionate, emotional health officer, Dr. McCoy seemed to worry and fret more than help, and the strategic and cunning Captain Kirk seemed to be willing to risk too much on long shots. Spock’s logical analysis of the situation often saved Kirk’s and McCoy’s necks.
As Mary Magdalene reaches the tomb of her beloved lord Jesus, who was crucified, died, and was buried in this tomb just a few days ago, she observes the scene, and takes in an unimaginable fact… the stone is moved... and as one commentary puts it, “Her mind moves logically to the conclusion that someone has taken Jesus’ body.” What other logical conclusion could there be? It could be someone who loved him, or someone who hated him, or just grave robbers. But that stone being moved means his body is gone. She doesn’t even look inside to confirm it. She just knows it, logically.
Now, she is not just acting logically, but is also clearly emotionally invested in what is going on, as well. That’s why she came this morning, just to be near to his body, even if he, it, was dead. Somehow, to be there, where he was buried may help her deal with the grief and pain of losing him such a short time ago. Those of us who have lost loved ones to death understand this emotional, illogical pull. Whenever I’m anywhere near the northwest side of Atlanta, I often detour through Crestlawn Cemetary to look at the grave markers for my momma and daddy, as if seeing those names in bronze and stone, and being there so close to what once was their bodies, will help me inch a bit further down the road of loving them and missing them.
Going is emotional. When she sees the stone is rolled away, she comes to the logical conclusion that someone, the infamous “they”, have taken him, and she acts rationally, logically on that conclusion. She hustles back to the other disciples, to tell them that the stone is moved, and his body has been taken.
The disciple “whom Jesus loved” takes off for the tomb and arrives first. Yep, the stone is rolled away. He goes a little further than Mary did, and dares to peek in. He sees some of the cloths that had once been wrapped around Jesus’ body just lying there with no body for them to wrap around.
Peter arrives. Peter goes a little further than Mary or the other disciple did, and dares to enter the tomb. Yep, the stone is rolled away, and there are the linen wrappings. Peter gets some new information… the cloth that had been draped over Jesus’ face is rolled up neatly and set over to the side in a place all by itself.
The other disciple then goes in as well and sees what Peter sees. Stone is gone, wrappings are there, face cloth is rolled up… and he believes… Believes what?... believes that Jesus’ body really has been taken. The scripture makes sure to tell us they still don’t have room in their logical understanding of how the world works to even consider Jesus might rise from the dead. These two disciples, with all the evidence before them, come to the same logical conclusion that Mary had come to, someone, “they”, have taken the body of Jesus. The disciples will probably never know who took it, or what “they” did with it, and so head for home with that real probability of never knowing on their hearts and minds.
Mary finally looks inside, and sees the wrappings and cloth, but she stays behind to weep. In her weeping, she keeps looking at the spot where his body once laid, hoping that somewhere between her blinks and her tears, the image will change and she will see his body still there, wrapped and covered. Jesus’ body doesn’t reappear, but the scene does change. Instead, two strangers are suddenly sitting there on the slab. She doesn’t even pause to wonder how they got past her, kneeling and weeping at the doorway, and into the tomb. She doesn’t care about these new people. She just wants to know where Jesus’ body is.
Over the whole of this story, Mary’s preoccupation is with locating the body of Jesus. She started with, “They’ve taken the Lord… and we do not know where they have laid him.” She says to these strangers, “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” She later says to the one she logically assumes is the gardener, “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, his body, and I will go get him, his body…” Death logically means there is still a body but there is no more life, and since she can’t have the life, she at least wants the body.
The strangers in the tomb ask her a question. “Why are you weeping?” That question seems so insensitive. Isn’t it obvious why? Then she feels the presence of someone else behind her, and turns to see someone standing there. Her mind draws another logical conclusion. It must be the caretaker, showing up for work, about to prune and pull weeds and keep the place looking nice. He asks the same insensitive question, “Why are you weeping?” She gives the same response, with a hint of frustration now on top of the desperation, “If you’ve taken him, just tell me. I won’t get you in trouble. I just want to know where his body is, so I can place his body somewhere, and can come there to remember him and be close to him.”
He speaks her name, “Mary,” and in a flash, all the logical assumptions and conclusions are suddenly erased by a single word of God. The stone is still rolled away, the wrappings are still piled up on the rock, the linen is still rolled and set to the side. None of the evidence has changed. But suddenly, everything has changed. The singer/songwriter David Wilcox calls this a figure/ground moment, like looking at an Escher drawing, where suddenly everything flips and what you saw before you can no longer see, but instead you see this other thing that was there all along. Same dots. Same data. Its just connected differently. And in those moments we realize just how small we sometimes make the universe just so we can feel like we understand it, and so we won’t feel so small inside it.
With that one word, “Mary,” she realizes, despite all the logical improbability, she has what she thought illogical, impossible, he is alive. Our translation has Jesus saying to her, “Do not hold on to me”, as if she was headed his way and he stops her before she gets to him. But that Greek verb for “do not hold onto me” is in a tense that suggests continuous action, meaning we could translate it as “do not keep holding onto me,” as if she had already jumped up, grabbed him, hugged him, and would never let him go again.
Jesus is trying to tell her, and to tell us, that our logical understandings of how the world works, of how death works, what death means, for our bodies, and our lives, is no longer as small or finite as we once thought. Because of Easter morning, we are forever on the other side, remembering how we once saw things in short-sighted more-limited ways, and now aware there is a bigger picture will always be there. The way we once saw death is rolled away by this new reality that Jesus did die but is not dead. He lives, and calls each one of us by name.
Mary no longer needed to know where his body was, or to hold onto it for herself. She came to look for a dead body, and wept tears of grief. She left his living body behind crying tears of joy. She came needing to know where he was. She left wanting to run and share the good news with others. That is Easter.
We have little, logical truths we hold onto. But Easter tosses everything over. He died, but he’s not dead… It doesn’t make sense. Just come and see.
That’s what church is called to be. Here, we know Jesus died, we believe he is risen, and we don’t try to hold onto him. We don’t try to hold on to what used to be, what we enjoyed before, what gave us comfort and benefit. Church isn’t about having and holding what was. Church isn’t about visit a dead body, but realizing, He’s alive! Church is about expectations being flipped, believing in the impossible, and running to invite others to come and see.
Now, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night this moment and forever more. Amen.