Why are you crying?
A sermon based on John 20.11-18 and Lamentations 3.16-24
I have only heard God speak to me clearly a few times in my Christian life so far, and one of those times happened about 12 years ago.
I was on a train, coming back from the funeral of a friend.
I was crying, and trying not to make it obvious.
And I heard some words in my head – “woman, why are you crying?”
My first thought was: “that’s not very sensitive, God!”
And then I remembered where the words came from.
Jesus sees Mary’s tears, he saw mine that terrible day on the train, and he sees yours too.
Yes, we are in the season of resurrection – and we will come to that
but there is so much sadness.
So many people have died.
So many people have been so unwell, and may be unwell still, and we can’t even visit them.
If you are mourning today, we see you – and so does Jesus.
Then – I came across this beautiful phrase recently – there are the living losses.
No one has died, and yet our sense of loss is keen.
Lost jobs, lost income, debts incurred in order to make ends meet.
The loneliness that some have experienced, particularly people who live alone.
The stress that others have experienced in being too much in each other’s company all the time, with no respite.
The anxiety and depression that have got worse, or being experienced for the first time.
If you are feeling a living loss today, we see you – and so does Jesus.
Grief is so uncomfortable, isn’t it? That was why I tried to hide my tears on the train.
I knew that no one wanted to see them, and I didn’t want them to be seen.
Some of us today are not grieving, life is okay, but we see people all around us struggling, and perhaps we don’t know what to do or say.
Sometimes Christians think that they should not be sad, because Jesus is alive.
Perhaps we hear those words spoken to Mary as a rebuke – woman, you should not be crying!
But Jesus, seeing Mary’s tears, speaks words of love – ‘dear woman.’
The phrase ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ sounds very abrupt in modern British English.
but this does not reflect the tone conveyed in the original Greek.
The word he uses for ‘woman’ here is a term of respect. In some translations, ‘Madam.’
But I love the tenderness of the New Living Translation here – ‘dear woman’. ‘Dear man’. Jesus not only sees, but he cares.
And not only does he care, but he is there – God with her, God with us.
The men have already been and seen that the tomb is empty, and gone away to tell the others.
They don’t see the risen Jesus yet, but Mary does.
He sees her crying and he appears to her
and at first she doesn’t recognise him.
Oh, if only Jesus would appear to us, speaking words of love!
If only we could have a resurrection appearance.
Instead he is alive for us by his Spirit.
Sometimes the Spirit speaks words directly into our hearts, which I believe is what happened to me on the train.
But mostly the Spirit sends us each other, to comfort each other, to keep company with each other, to speak the words of hope the risen Christ wants to speak to us.
How often does Christ appear to us in others, I wonder, perhaps sometimes unrecognised?
Jesus, as he so often does in the Bible, asks a question – "why are you crying?"
And Mary explains what she thinks has happened – that someone has moved or stolen Jesus’ body
and then Jesus speaks her name, and she recognises him – "Rabbouni"!
And her tears of grief turn to tears of joy as she realises that something wonderful has happened.
That the Lord was dead, but is dead no longer.
Jesus is back from the dead. And not in a spiritual sense. He’s not a ghost.
He says “don’t cling to me,” for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, but the point is, he is physically there.
She could have reached out and grabbed hold of him.
And a little later on John tells us that Jesus appears to the male disciples physically, breathing on them, letting them touch the wounds in his hands and side, even eating fish for breakfast on the beach.
Indeed, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus has risen until he has touched the wounds in his hands and side.
In becoming human in Jesus, God shared our weakness, our suffering, even our death. Through the resurrection we see that God, by submitting to death, found a way through it and out the other side. Holding out the hope that one day, after her own death, he would once more greet Mary in the garden of her own resurrection. The hope that one day, after our own death, he will greet us too asking, "dear one, why are you crying?" And our tears of sadness will turn to tears of joy.
I sometimes think about the many sadnesses of this life
all the questions that I am storing up to ask God face to face. And yet I sense that when that day comes and I meet Jesus
in the garden of my own resurrection all my questions will melt away.
Not because these questions are unimportant or that our earthly sufferings don’t matter. But because God does not offer us a set of answers Instead God meets us with a loving embrace.
And in the meantime, how shall we live?
It is summed up beautifully in the hymn ‘Great is thy faithfulness’:
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside
The knowledge of the resurrection gives us strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
The bright hope that death is not the end.
That God offers unconditional love from which not even our death can separate us.
Knowing that God raised Jesus from death, the bright hope that all we have lost might one day be raised.
And strength for today
knowing that Jesus is alive
that he sees our tears and meets them with loving kindness
that he is with us, perhaps unseen or unrecognised.
And so, just as Jesus got up from his grave-clothes
and left the tomb
leaving death behind
and rising to new life,
so we can get up and carry on living.
Defying all that drags us down
living resurrection lives now
lives that announce hope to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.
And that hope starts with our tears.
As we cry, we express the feeling that the world should not be this way
and needs to change.
And our tears can become determination,
compassion for others,
And beautiful things begin to grow in the garden of resurrection
as we weep together,
comfort each other,
speak out against injustice,
run food banks,
write to MPs,
become eco churches,
speak good news
practice good news
enact good news
proclaim good news.
We will not stay lying down in the tomb
because Christ is risen
and we rise with him.