Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sermon for April 16, 2017 | Easter Sunday

Why Do You Weep?

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home. But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him. Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.” Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!” Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her. John 20:1-1

So, have you ever had someone ask you a question you didn’t want to answer? I’ve found there are a lot of great ways to dodge the question. For instance, when asked a question, a common social custom is that you should answer, yet in reality what’s the worst that will happen if you just don’t respond? The simplest approach to dodging the question is avoidance -- just to refuse to answer. Or you can ignore the question -- just act as if no question was asked and continuing the conversation by talking about something else.

Or try this: next time someone asks you a questions you don’t want to answer, become quiet and stare back at the questioner. This is an advanced practice, but when you become comfortable with it, then it is only the other person who feels the discomfort of your icy stare.

A straightforward refusal is simply to say that you are not going to answer the question. “I'm not going to answer that.” If you parents raised you to be polite, then you can soften the blow by apologizing first. “I'm sorry, I'm not going to answer that.”

Another strategy is called turning the tables, which means exchanging roles so you take control of the situation and act as if you are in charge, with higher authority than the other person. If you want to be advanced in this strategy, act like you are offended that someone asked you the question in the first place. Tell the person they have no right to ask that particular question.

And there is the famous move called, “answer a question with another question.” Parents do this all the time when we don’t know the answer, or don’t want to answer. Teachers do it, too. “That’s a good question. So what do you think?” It’s kind of annoying, but I do it all the time.

It turns out, Jesus also had that annoying practice of speaking in questions. He rarely gave a straight answer when anyone questioned him. Instead he asked a question back. Or remained silent, like when he was questioned before Herod and Pilate on Good Friday. Or he did something weird like draw in the sand with his finger, while someone’s life hung in the balance. Or he told offbeat stories that raised more questions than they answered. It’s no wonder the disciples seemed confused all the time. Sometimes we might think, “Oh come ON, Peter! Come ON disciples! How can you possibly not get it when you’ve got Jesus there in front of you? How on earth are we meant to manage?’ But on that first Easter morning, even the least charitable of us could reasonably expect Mary and the other disciples might need some sort of explanation of what’s going on.

We don’t get a lot of details about how a man, who dies on a cross as a criminal and is buried in a sealed garden tomb, rises from the dead, rolls away the stone, and lives again. Even the angels, Gods messengers, the ones who are supposed to spell God’s messages out, even THEY join Jesus in answering questions with questions. And not even sensible questions.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks.

Isn’t it obvious why Mary is weeping? Isn’t it a no-brainer who she is looking for? Why doesn’t Jesus just come right out and comfort her, and tell what has happened? Why can’t he say, “Mary! No worries. It’s me! This is what I was trying to get at the other night. I had to go through death so that I could conquer the fear of death forever. God’s love has always been completely free. There are no conditions. I went through the violence, punishment, and torture from human hands to show that God is never violent, punishing, torturing, or vindictive. I have shown you to way to salvation. God is love. God is compassion. God is mercy”?

But no. First the angels, then Jesus, start by asking a question – ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ We don’t know, of course, what tone of voice Jesus asked this question in, how we should read it. Was it perhaps sympathetic? “Woman, why are you weeping?”  Or maybe it was said with affectionate exasperation? “Woman! Why (on earth) are you weeping? Here I am standing in front of you!” Sometimes I feel that is the tone of voice that God uses with me when I’m praying: “Oh for goodness sake, Matt! I do love you, but puh-lease … you can be slow to catch on sometimes!”

Or perhaps the emphasis is on the why. It seems obvious to us, that Mary is weeping because she is upset at the death of Jesus, and now she feels lost and helpless because his body is gone and so she can’t even do the simple but important things for his body that she came for.

Woman, why do you weep? We could ask the same question today. “Women, why do you weep?” Let’s not ignore two millennia-worth of women who have been weeping: Weeping over children dying in infancy; weeping because they are unable to feed their families; weeping with sheer, mind-numbing exhaustion and hopelessness at the end of a 16 or 18 hour working day, at the end of which they are as poor, as enslaved, as indebted as they were at the beginning; weeping over war, over injustice, over death, over persecution; weeping with fear; weeping with shame; weeping with loneliness. Women, why are you weeping?  Maybe it’s a cue for us to remember how God takes all humanity’s grief seriously. God does not rush in to fix or answer the question of why bad things happen. God doesn’t tell Mary that she’s wrong to feel the pain of sorrow. He doesn’t say “There, there, it will all be OK.” God comes alongside us in our grief and asks us to talk about it.

Only then does Jesus say something that isn’t a question. It’s not really an explanation either. Jesus simply says her name. “Mary.” That’s when she recognizes him. That’s when he sends her out to tell the disciples things she is hardly sure of herself -- to announce things she must feel very unprepared for. Maybe Mary thinks she might have to dodge some questions herself. How does one explain something so unexplainable, after all?

How about you? Why are you weeping? What are you sorrows? God hears, and listens. God takes our worries and our pains seriously.

And then, if we are aware and awake, you will hear God speak your name. And says: “Go. Go to my friends, to my sisters and brothers, and tell them that you have seen the Christ.

My prayer for all of is that, with Mary leaving the tomb, we can affirm a word of hope: “I have seen the Christ.”
I have seen the Christ and I refuse to be controlled by fear.
I have seen the Christ, and I refuse to dehumanize another.
I have seen the Christ and I will tear down the walls of gender, race, class, and sexual identity.
I have seen the Christ and will I love my enemies.
I have seen the Christ and I will stand with the poor.
I have seen the Christ and I will forgive those who've wronged me.
I have seen the Christ so I will resist the violence of the nations by acting for peace.
I have seen the Christ and so I will demonstrate the power of resurrection in our world!


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