Sermon: “Weeping and Rejoicing”

Lectionary Series C; Easter Sunrise Service

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Gospel Reading: John 20:1-18


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When is the last time that you cried? What is it that makes you cry? Tears are a hallmark of this world. Tears and life go together. Tears of pain, violence, frustration, disappointment, sickness, misunderstanding, and death.

If there is anything that makes us cry, it is our sin and the effects of sin in our world. It is only a risen Christ who has the answer to sin and its consequences. Today’s text is all about what gives us good reason to cry and the answer to our tears. Mary had good reason to cry.

As we heard in our text, Easter did not start with rejoicing for Mary Magdalene. It began with tears. It was under the cover of darkness in the early hours of the morning. Such a sad journey it must have been for Mary as she went to say her final ‘good-bye’ of sorts as she made her way to the tomb.

Yet, while it was still dark, Mary saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb, so she panicked. Who would disturb the tomb of her Lord? She ran back as fast as she could to report the alarming news to the disciples. Peter and John, in an instant, made their way to the tomb. John got there first, but Peter was the first to enter the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, the face cloth folded up by itself. John then went in and believed. Yet neither understood the Scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. They then returned back to their homes, leaving Mary all alone by the tomb. (Pause)

Mary, from the village of Magdala. A woman known for having had seven demons cast out of her by Jesus. A woman who had witnessed His crucifixion. She had seen Him breathe His last. Oh, how these images must have stolen her sleep the past couple of days. And now, she was forced to consider the reality that the dead body of her Lord had been stolen. It was all too much! All that was left to do was weep.

No doubt we have all been there. Overcome with a weight of grief and sadness, faced with the harsh reality of mortality. It is a burden unlike any other. There is a sinking feeling in the chest, almost as if there is a pile of rocks on our rib cage. It makes breathing ever so difficult. In fact, each breath is drawn out into long gasps for air, almost as if we are drowning…drowning in our own tears. We can’t help it. The sting of death is just too painful.

It is no wonder that this world is called a vale of tears. We have each had our fair share of good-byes. That severing of body and soul is a felt reality for those who are left behind to mourn. We are left to look upon the tombs and the gravestones of those who once brought joy to our lives. It may sound like a simple statement, but it’s not: death hurts.

The harsh reality is that it is supposed to hurt. It is the wage we pay because of our sin. Where the supposed easy thing to do would seem to be to blame God for death, it is we who have brought it upon ourselves. We are the sinners. We are the ones who failed to meet God’s demand of perfection. And for that failure, there is a price to pay. And like all consequences, that price hurts. Death hurts.

This is very evident as we page through the Old Testament. We hear that the people of God mourned when Moses died for thirty days. We hear that they mourned when Aaron died for thirty days. When Joseph, Jacob’s son died, the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days. Throughout Biblical history, there has been an intentionality to take time to mourn.

It’s no wonder that God tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

How sad is it though, that we live in a world that doesn’t afford us such time. This world says we should hurry up and get over death. Employers may only give a couple paid days off, if any, when a loved one dies. Then the expectation is that we return back to work as if nothing happened with all of the same demands placed upon us before the death occurred. It is the mentality that if we simply busy ourselves enough with tasks, the pain will go away. But the pain doesn’t just go away. Oh, we may bury it under a heap of duties and any other thoughts we can muster up, but the pain is still there.

Do you know how long it takes to heal from an ‘expected’ death? Three years. Do you know how long it takes to heal from an ‘unexpected’ death? Seven years. And really, one doesn’t ever really fully heal from death. That pain never fully goes away on this side of eternity because we will always miss our loved ones who have died before us.

So it was for Mary Magdalene as she wept outside the tomb. It was a time to weep, a time to mourn.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They 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.”

The trauma was more than she could bear. It was more than she could handle that her Lord had died, but to try and wrap her mind around the fact that someone had stolen Jesus’ body was just too much. Not even angels could sway her from this sad situation. It was too much to handle.

Death is always too much to handle. We may try to handle it on our own, but only to our own demise. We are inclined to try and press through the grief thinking that if we just focus hard enough, we can get to the light at the end of the tunnel. But, the darkness of death is too daunting.

It looked as though Mary was going to be left in a vale of tears and hopelessness. We can all too often relate. But, for Mary, everything was about to change. And as it did with her, so it does for us.

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).”

In an effort to draw her out of her weeping, Jesus asked her the same question that the angels asked. “Why are you weeping?” What may sound somewhat insensitive was actually Jesus’ way of pointing to the fact that there was no reason for weeping.

But her sorrow was simply too much. She was still stuck in the thought that Jesus’ body had been stolen. It never entered her mind that this could possibly be Him. After all, no one rises from the dead on their own. No one, except for Jesus, that is.

With one word, Mary’s weeping was turned to rejoicing. One word. And that word was, “Mary.” The same Jesus who had cast out seven demons from her body. The same Jesus she had seen die her death. The same Jesus she had seen laid in the tomb. The same Jesus she had come to pay her last respects to. He was now right there before her, and He was calling her by name.

So, it is for all of us. The resurrected Jesus has called each of us by name. In our baptism, we were called by name. We were marked with the cross of Jesus upon our forehead and upon our heart. We were washed with the water and the Word as we were called by name. The resurrected Jesus knows each of us by name because we belong to Him.

And because we belong to Him, all that is His belongs to us. His perfect life, His death, His resurrection. All of it. We who were doomed to face the darkness of death because of our sins are not left to wallow in our weeping. He who died our death now lives. This is a time to rejoice!

“Alleluia! Christ is risen!” … “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Yes, there is an answer to our weeping and our tears. It is found in the One who rose from the dead on the third day and calls us all by name. And one day, He will raise us from death and wipe every tear from our eyes. And there will be no more death, nor more mourning, no more crying, no more pain…

All because…“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And giving thanks was all that Mary could do as she clung to her Lord and Savior. It was as if she simply could not let go. Her gratitude and rejoicing was overwhelming her as her hands held tight to the resurrected Jesus.

“Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.”

What she proclaimed as her weeping was turned to rejoicing is the good news of great joy that we have been given to proclaim in this world. We may live in a vale of tears, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We have the hope of the resurrected Jesus alive and well within us. The very One who has called us by name, has called us to share His resurrection hope so that all those who weep, may rejoice. Rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and Savior!

“Alleluia! Christ is risen!” … “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.