Why Are You Weeping?
Text: John 20:1-18
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
“Why are you weeping?” I would like you to take a moment and travel with me back in time to the very first Easter. I want you to imagine what it must have been like to be Mary, or any of the other disciples for that matter. I want us to forget, for just a few moments, that we know the rest of the story. I want us to forget that we know the “punch line.”
Imagine yourself in first century Palestine. You have heard many rumors about this man, Jesus, who is speaking and motivating people with his wonderful words. You’ve been hearing about the many miracles he’s performed and you’ve heard some speculate that he is the promised Messiah. Then, one day, while you are in the midst of your work, you hear him call to you, “Follow Me.” Before you know it, you’re on your feet, following after Jesus and getting to know the others that have also responded to His call. You witness first hand his preaching and teaching, his miracles, and his compassion for sinners. You see how he values each person for who they are and how he touches their life with the grace of God.
Many times he takes you, and his other close followers, aside and teaches you about the kingdom of God. He talks to you about his purpose for coming. He tells you that he will be sentenced to death, buried, and on the third day, rise again. Yet, even as he speaks, you’re not really sure what He is talking about. It all sounds so impossible.
After spending nearly three years with him, sharing many meals together, you and the other followers begin to feel the time is coming. The time when Jesus will certainly proclaim himself king. Your confidence in this rises as you head to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, only this time, as you enter into the city the crowds surround you, and Jesus rides in on a donkey’s colt. People are waving palm branches and laying their cloths on the road and shouting, “Hosanna!” “Yes,” you think to yourself, “this is going to be it! This will be glorious.”
A few days later, this hope is completely dashed as Jesus is arrested, tried, beaten and whipped, and sentenced to death on a cross. You wind up standing in the background, helpless, hopeless, as you watch your friend and teacher die a horrible death. All you can feel is your heart and spirit breaking as all your hopes and dreams die.
Then you watch as Jesus’ body is taken off the cross and placed in a tomb. After which a huge stone is rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb. The seal of Pontius Pilate is place upon it and guards are stationed there. Soon the Sabbath day comes. A time of numbness and confusion, grief and sorrow.
Now it is early in the morning on the first day of the week. Sunday morning. You get up and go to the tomb and as you approach the tomb you notice something doesn’t appear to be quite right. First, there are no guards standing by. Secondly, the stone has been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. “As if things couldn’t get worse,” you say to yourself. You get closer to the tomb, just to be sure your eyes haven’t deceived you. Sure enough, someone has gotten into the tomb. They must have because the body of Jesus isn’t there.
You go quickly to get some of your friends to tell them that someone has taken Jesus’ body. You tell Peter and John and they follow you back to the tomb. They go in and, “yup, the body isn’t there.” And they go back home. But you stay by the tomb.
As you stand by the tomb your grief again overwhelms you and you begin to weep. You almost wonder if the tears will ever stop flowing. The hurt and sorrow are so great. You work up the courage to again peer into the tomb, knowing you won’t see anything different than before, but you look any way. When you look, you are stunned because you do see something. Something you didn’t expect. The tomb was no longer empty. Oh, the body of Jesus wasn’t there, but there were two angels in white robes, one sitting at the head and the other at the feet of where the body of Jesus had been. With tears still streaming down your face one of the angels says to you, “woman, why are you weeping?”
The question almost seems callous and cold doesn’t it? Here the angels sit in Jesus’ tomb, where Jesus dead body had been, after an incredibly awful death, and the angels have the audacity to ask, “why are you weeping?” In the shock of hearing what you just heard you might find yourself asking, “Is that a serious question? Really? You don’t know what happened? Why am I weeping? They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
All you wanted to do is grieve and be near the body of the one you loved. Now, even that has been taken away. It’s bad enough all the things they did to Jesus when he was alive. Now, even in death they couldn’t leave him alone. Someone took the body from the tomb. But why? And who?
In continued grief, and now perhaps disbelief at what you were experiencing, you turn around and, great, someone else is here too! Probably the gardener. What is he saying? “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Seriously?! “Why am I weeping? Whom am I seeking? How do you not know?!! Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
By this time would you have become angry or frustrated? Would you be feeling tormented? Everything you loved and hoped for was destroyed and placed in this tomb. Now, even the body has been taken away and angels, and a gardener, want to know what ails you. Tears of grief and anger flowing down your face. Perhaps even tears of frustration. Then, you hear your name. “Mary.” Garry, Peter, Ruth, Phil, Kerry, Paula… You hear your name. When your name is spoken you all of the sudden become aware of who it is who is speaking to you. It is not a gardener who is calling you by name. It is not a dead man who is calling you by name. It is none other than Jesus.
The one who was crucified and buried and placed in the tomb, is not in the tomb. Not because someone stole the body and hid it someplace else. Jesus was not in the tomb because the tomb is only a place for the dead. Jesus was no longer dead and no longer needed a grave.
Fast forward to today. We are able to look back and see that, once Mary recognized it was Jesus who was standing before her, and speaking to her, her tears of sorrow and defeat turned to tears of joy. The one whom she thought was dead and gone forever, now stands in front of her very much alive. This was no dream nor was it a ghost. In her excitement I can image her grabbing him and hugging him, holding him close in the joy that he is real. He’s alive!
Jesus speaks to her and says not to cling to him for he has yet to ascend to the Father. He then instructs her to tell the others. So, she goes and tells them what she has seen and experienced. And she tells them what Jesus had spoken to her.
Her reason for weeping was gone and was replaced by the joy of the risen Christ! We gather today because of this great news that was shared at the tomb. We gather to celebrate the new life that is ours in Christ! We rejoice in the good news: Jesus is not in the tomb! He is not in the middle of a dead religion nor in the fantasies of his followers. Jesus is not dead. Jesus is alive!
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! The best news ever! And our joy is to go tell others – we have seen Jesus our Lord! Jesus Christ is risen! He has risen indeed! Amen.