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Edward F. Markquart

Easter C
Why Are You Weeping, Mary

John 20:1-18

The angels asked her: “Woman, why are you weeping?”  Jesus asked her the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” This question echoes down the centuries of time until it reverberates within the walls of our sanctuary this morning, “Why…why are you still weeping?”

Today, at this early sunrise service, we gather here in the quietness our sanctuary. Christians have done this for centuries. For centuries, other Christians have gathered together in simplicity and silence at Easter sunrise services. We join their processional of the ages. 

The mood and atmosphere of this early morning service is somewhat like the mood and atmosphere of those women two thousand years ago who came to the grave of Jesus on that first Easter morning. These women two thousand years ago were devout followers of Jesus, and they carried with them their ointments, their perfumes, their oils to anoint the dead body of Jesus on that Sunday morning.

These women had witnessed the awfulness of Good Friday. That is, I am sure that they were there outside of the home of Pontius Pilate and heard Pilate’s orders to whip Jesus. These women saw Jesus’ body after it was flogged and beaten. They saw Jesus carry the cross to the Place of the Skull. At the place of the Skull, they saw the nails hammered through his wrists by the soldiers. They heard the taunting by the crowds and gawkers. They listened to Jesus’ seven last words. They watched his body as it breathed its last and died. These women saw it all, close up, huddled together for strength. It was awful, horrible, gut-wrenching. These women then watched Jesus’ body as it was taken down from the cross. Then they followed at a distance to see where Jesus was buried. It was Friday late afternoon, and the Sabbath rules dictated that they had to go home. 

And then on Sunday morning, at the break of dawn, the first day of the week, the first day that they could grieve and pay homage to Jesus’ body, these same women quietly walked along the path to the place of Jesus’ burial. It was still dark. It was before the breaking of dawn.

A group of women were there, three or four or five of them, but the Gospel of John does not focus on this group of women but focuses on one particular woman.  Just one woman. Mary Magdalene was her name. The Gospel of John tells us the Easter story of Mary Magdalene.

From classes that I have taught, you know that I very much appreciate the historical accuracy and historical intricate details of the Gospel of John. In incident after incident, in the Gospel of John, we hear of juicy historical tidbits from Jesus’ life. From his reporting of Good Friday, John gives us the historical detail that the “cup” at the base of the cross was full of vinegar. Not half full, not a quarter full. But full of vinegar. From the last resurrection story in John’s account, we hear that the disciples caught 153 fish and they were “large” fish. Details. Details. Details. We also know that that Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness and John, the young apostle, was a good recorder of the details of the events.

Either John was a great fraud and fabricator of details of the stories of Jesus so as to give an appearance of historical authenticity or he was a faithful eyewitness of those authentic events. Either he was a fabricator of historical illusions or he was a faithful reporter of the truth of what he saw. Because I have come to trust the reliability of John’s details, I trust the reliability of his story of the resurrection for today.

And John focuses not on a group of women, but one woman, Mary Magdalene. The other three gospels focus on the group of women whereas John focuses on one woman, Mary from Magdala. 

Mary Magdalene was deeply attached to Jesus. The word, “magdalene,” means “from Magdala” and Magdala was a small town near Capernaum. We know from the first three gospels that Jesus had healed her of a disease of demon possession; she had seven demons before Jesus healed her. Jesus healed Mary and two other women that day. Mary Magdalene accompanied a band of women who traveled with Jesus and his disciples. This band of women often paid for the disciples’ food and supplies. This band of women was at the crucifixion of Jesus and saw it all. As part of that band of women, Mary Magdalene’s heart must have been devastated, distraught, and dumbfounded as she saw her Lord crucified. She, with the other women, watched where his body was buried, and they were numbed by the whole experience.

And now according to the Gospel of John, she came to Jesus’ grave early in the morning while it was still dark. She saw that the stone in front of the grave had been rolled away and so she ran to find Peter and John to tell them what happened. She was upset, confused, bewildered at what had happened.

I assume that Mary Magdalene ran to the Mount of Olives where Jesus and his disciples stayed overnight when Jesus visited Jerusalem. 

She found Peter and John. John was not called John but the disciple whom Jesus loved. Most Biblical scholars assume that “the beloved disciple” was John who became the author of the Gospel of John. In other words, Mary found Peter and John, and John became the equivalent of a newspaper reporter at the scene of this event.

Peter and John ran to Jesus’ grave. Sure enough, the gravestone was rolled away. John, the younger, got there first. John bent over and looked in but did not go in.  Do you see the detail, the body bending over, stooping and looking in and seeing the linen clothes? Then Peter, the older fisherman, finally got there. They both walked into the grave, Peter first, and saw that Jesus’ body was gone. They saw the linen shroud in which Jesus’ body had been wrapped lying there. The linen napkin, which had been on Jesus’ head, was rolled up and not with the linen wrappings that had been on Jesus’ body.

Notice the detail that John the eyewitness gives us. John got there first, stooped over, looked in, saw the burial clothes. Then Peter arrived and walked right into that burial vault. Then John followed.  John gives us the details of the linen clothes. He distinguishes between the linen clothes that had been on Jesus’ body and a napkin that was rolled up neatly. These details are consistent with the reporting of John. Either John was a first class fabricator of truth to give the illusion of historical accuracy or he was telling the truth.

The Gospel of John tells us that at that very moment, John believed. He was making a true statement about himself. John had not seen the Risen Christ, but in that moment of looking at the linen clothes and rolled up napkin, he believed. John still did not understand the Scripture that Jesus would rise from the dead. Even so, John believed, before Peter, before anyone else.

And the two disciples went home.

John, the eyewitness, the teller of details, continues his story. John focuses on one particular woman, Mary Magdalene, and not the group of women.

John gives us another historical juicy detail: As Mary was standing outside of the Jesus’ tomb, she was crying, weeping, grieving, sobbing. The Greek word implies “weeping deeply or sobbing.” The word for “weep” occurs four times in this story.

As she was weeping, Mary bent over to look into the tomb. Another detail. That is, we can see her body bending to look into the tomb, just like John himself had stooped over to look in. This was not a tall doorway into the grave, as in some paintings from the Renaissance, but a shorter doorway of about three to four feet. Mary stoops to look in, as John stooped to look in. John gives us this juicy detail.

As she was bending over, stooping, looking into the tomb, weeping, she saw two angels in that tomb. The two disciples didn’t see the two angels but Mary does. John gives us details: one angel was sitting at the head of the tomb where Jesus’ body had been and the other at the foot.

And the angels asked a pivotal question of Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” And that is the key question for today, “Why are you weeping Mary?” That question echoes through the centuries and into our hearts today, “Why are you weeping?”

Mary replied, “Because someone has taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put his body.”

Then, after Mary had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there but she did not recognize Jesus. She thought it was the gardener. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? What are you looking for?” Again, this is the pivotal question in this text. This is the pivotal question of life that echoes through the corridors of time and echoes within the walls of our sanctuary today: “Why are you weeping?”

Mary said to him, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabonni which means Teacher.”

Jesus said, “Do not hold onto me for I have not ascended to my Father. Go and tell the other disciples that I am ascending to your Father and my Father, to my God and your God.”

And Mary went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Mary Magdalene was no longer weeping. She had seen the Lord. Instead of tears, there was triumph in her voice.

Thus ends the first of four resurrection stories in the Gospel of John.

From this story, a question persists from that first Easter morning and persists throughout all the centuries and persists to us this day in the twenty first century, “Why are you weeping, Mary? Why are you still crying? Do you not know the truth about me? Do you still not know the truth that I Jesus have been raised from the dead and that whoever lives and believes in me will never die but live forever? Why then are you still weeping? Why are you weeping?” This question echoes through the centuries and within the walls of our sanctuary today.

So I ask a question of you today, “Knowing that Jesus had been raised from the dead, why do we still weep at funerals and when loved ones die? Why do we still cry? Why do all human beings weep at the death of our loved ones?” 

It is a universal trait, this weeping at the loss of a loved one. In all cultures, in all centuries, in all religions. No matter who you are, when your loved one dies, we weep. We cry. We mourn. We feel our loss. We are devastated.

There are so many different burial customs and burial rituals in every civilization and in every culture, but all human beings are the same in one important way: we all cry when our loved ones die.

“Why is this?” we ask.

I asked a friend of mine, Doug Anderson, a pastoral counselor here in our parish. He said that we human beings are deeply attached to one another. Because we human beings become so deeply attached to each other, we are also deeply wounded by the loss of our loved one. It is as if our hearts are torn apart. Think of a person that you deeply loved and that person died. Your mother, your father, your son, your daughter, your best friend. The agony of loss was incredibly deep. We human beings become so deeply attached to each other. When death comes, it snatches that person from us.

For example, in the Old Testament, there is a story about David and his good friend, Jonathan, who was killed. David grieved deeply for his best friend. David and Jonathan were bonded at their hips, their hearts, their minds. David’s heart was torn apart when he learned about the death of his best friend. That is the way it is, with us human beings.

For example, in the New Testament, there is a story about Jesus and his good friend, Lazarus, who died. Jesus grieved deeply for his best friend. The Bible says that “Jesus wept” and the word, “wept” has the connotation of sobbing deeply in emotional pain. Even though Jesus knew about eternal life, he still wept deeply at the loss of his friend, Lazarus. The two were deeply attached.  Jesus’ heart was torn apart when he learned about the death of his best friend. That is the way it is, with us human beings.

Why are you weeping, Mary? Is it because you were so deeply attached and connected with Jesus Christ?

I believe that another reason that people weep at times of death is because the loss of the potential love that the deceased person symbolized. For example, when young Jeffery S. was killed by a car so many years ago at age seven, the parents and family grieved for the loss of Jeffery’s potential life: for all the joy that Jeffery would have created. For his friends. For his childhood years, his teenage years, his graduations, wedding, children, grandchildren, for all the joy that Jeffery would have brought to the S. family. I believe that when we grieve and weep, we weep for the lost potential of our loved one.

I also believe that we weep because we feel sorry for ourselves, that we lost so much in their death.

Knowing all of that, I believe that the Gospel of John is telling us that the Truth of Christ is stronger than our tears, that the Spirit of Christ is stronger than our sorrow, that God is stronger than our grief, that Easter is stronger than Good Friday, that life is stronger than death, that eternal life is stronger than eternal death.

At the end of the story for today, Mary Magdalene was no longer weeping, sobbing, crying. By the end of the story for today’s gospel lesson, Mary Magdalene was convinced that she had seen the Risen Lord. And because she had seen the Risen Lord, that affected her tears and crying. And Mary went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Mary Magdalene was no longer weeping. She had seen the Lord.

Instead of tears, there was triumph in her voice.

Instead of sorrow, there were signs of relief that she had seen the Risen Christ. “I have seen the Lord. I have seen the resurrection. I have seen eternal life and I believe.”

She could have written the first line of the Easter hymn, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

There are times that the Truth of the Gospel penetrates our feelings and triumphs our feelings and we believe, “The Lord and my loved one live forever!!!” 

The gospel of the resurrection triumphs over our feelings of deepest loss and sorrow.

It is not that our human feelings that God created in us go away, but that the truth of the Easter gospel is stronger than our feelings of sadness.

What happened to Mary Magdalene after she was the first person to have seen the

Risen Christ? You would think that Mary Magdalene would have become a legend in the earliest church, that she would have been talked about and written about and sung about in the most ancient traditions of church.

But Mary Magdalene disappears into the passing pages of human history. That is, Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the Book of Acts, nor in the letters of the Apostle Paul, nor in the pastoral letters of the New Testament. She is not mentioned in ancient church history.

We don’t hear about Mary Magdalene until the Middle Ages and early Renaissance when Mary is associated with the woman caught in adultery or associated with the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.

Centuries later, Mary Magdalene appears as Jesus’ lover and wife in contemporary literature such as in Kazankasis’ LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and Brown’s, THE DAVINCI CODE.

For me, I prefer the historical reliability of the Gospel of John than the other fictions. I remember Mary Magdalene as the first person who experienced the Risen Christ. She saw the Risen Christ and her belief transformed her feelings of sadness. I remember the question that Jesus and the angels asked of her and still ask of you and me so many centuries later, “Why are you still weeping? Don’t you know that I have been raised from the dead? Why then are you still crying?”


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