Why Are You Weeping?
| John 20:1-18
||Sun, April 4, 1999
Rev. Ed Searcy
|Mary wakes up early, very early, in the morning on the first day of the week. She lies there in the dark unable to go back to sleep. The tears which never seem to stop well up once again in her eyes. Dead. He is dead. She will never see him again, hear him again, touch him again. Mary feels her heart breaking with the pain. Then she realizes that the Sabbath is over and she can visit the tomb where his body has been laid. So, while it is still dark, she gets up out of bed and dresses herself in a cloak and lights a lamp and goes out into Jerusalem’s darkened streets and makes her way to the garden tomb.
There, in the garden, Mary discovers the awful truth. Grave robbers have beaten her to the tomb. What else can explain what she finds there. The stone, the heavy stone, has been moved. And the grave ... the grave is empty. His body is gone. What could they want with Jesus’ body? He was not a rich man, buried with expensive jewellery. She can understand why robbers open the tombs of the wealthy. But Jesus ... Jesus had nothing. Not one penny. This must be one final indignity ... one last spiteful act of the mob that killed him. Mary’s heart aches. There will be no peace even in death for her. She will not even be able to find comfort in visiting his grave.
Sobbing and running through the streets, Mary finds Peter and the beloved disciple: "They have taken his body ... it is gone ... and we don’t know where they have laid him". Racing through the streets, roosters crowing as the dawn breaks, the two disciples find the tomb empty as Mary said. They don’t know what to make of it all ... they don’t understand. And they go home. But Mary stands outside the tomb ... weeping. Then the strangest thing happens to her. Looking in again, hoping against hope that somehow they have missed seeing his body ... that there has been some terrible mistake ... she sees instead angels, two angels. Before she has time to think they ask "Woman, why are you weeping?". And Mary thinks to herself, ‘What kind of a question is that? Why am I weeping? I have been weeping for days. Weeping because the mob took him. Weeping because they crucified him. Weeping because I watched him die before my eyes. Weeping because we laid him, too young, in this grave. And now weeping because they have stolen his body.’ But as she tries to explain Mary feels the presence of someone else standing there in the garden.
Turning around she meets a man who asks her the same question: "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?" Mary doesn’t recognize him She guesses that he must be the gardener, up early to work in the garden. Maybe, she thinks, he has moved the body. Maybe there is another explanation for what has happened. She asks this gardener, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where he is and I will take care of his body for you". But the gardener does not answer her question. Instead he says just one word ... one word that will change Mary’s life for ever. He says her name. "Mary". In that instant Mary is transformed. This gardener knows her name? But more, he says her name with the same tone of voice, the same inflection, the same gentle strength as only one other person that she has known. He knows her. And now she knows who he is. "Rabbi". Jesus.
She reaches out to touch him, to hold him ... to never let him go. Having lost him once, she is determined not to lose him again. But Jesus says: "Don’t hold on to me ... I must be with my God and with your God. Let me go. Then tell the others." And she does. Mary lets go ... and turns around ... and leaves him standing in the garden ... and goes to tell the others. She doesn’t cling to him or to Easter morning. All she needs is the memory of that one spoken word ... "Mary". He still knows her name ... death has not ended their relationship. And she is the first ... the first to be able to say: "I have seen the Lord".
But she is not the last. There are many others who weep when they gather at the empty tomb on Easter morning. Many, like Mary, who see the evidence of the empty tomb and find only emptiness there. For all of the trumpet blasts and organ sounds ... for all of the flowers and signs of spring ... they, like her, long for more. They long to see him, to hear him, to touch him. And when they are asked "Why are you weeping?" they hardly know where to begin. Then, as the bread is broken and the wine is shared, they hear his voice: "My body, the bread of life, broken for you" ... "My blood, my life-giving blood, poured out for you". For you. Not for someone else. For you. Like Mary, they want to cling to the moment, hold on to the living presence of Christ. But he says ‘Do not hold on. Go and tell the others’.
That is who we are. We are an Easter people. A people who live to tell the world that we have seen the Lord ... that he is risen ... that he calls each one by name ... that grief has turned to joy ... and death to life.