Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 16, 2017

2017.04.16 “Is Anybody Here Like Mary Weeping?” – John 20: 1 – 18

Central United Methodist Church
­­­­­­­Is Anybody Here Like Mary Weeping?
Pastor David L. Haley
John 20: 1 – 18
April 16th, 2017

The Risen Christ

The Risen Christ

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 – 18, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Easter greetings to everyone; thanks to each of you for celebrating Easter with us today. Last year on Easter Sunday, between the six congregations that meet in our building, we had around 500 people who worshiped at Central that weekend. This Easter, we are glad you are one of them.

On Easter, sometimes we are concerned whether we will have sufficient seating for all who attend. So – in preparation – we sent our ushers out for training at United, and should we need more seats, four of you will be selected to be forcibly removed from your seats and dragged down the aisle. So when the ushers come around, make sure they have offering plates in their hand. Otherwise it will be an Easter you will never forget.

The title I have chosen for this year’s Easter sermon is, “Is Anybody Here Like Mary Weeping?” from an early American folk hymn in the Sacred Harp tradition. I choose this title because in the Easter story that we read today – from John’s Gospel – Mary Magdalene is the star of the show. In fact, though the Easter morning accounts vary, Mary is the one consistent person in all four Gospels. In John’s Gospel, initially she is the only one, and later in the story stands there again, weeping alone.

In passing, may I point out how restrained the resurrection accounts are? Over the past weeks, as we have read from John’s Gospel, we have learned that John rarely suffers a shortage of words. The story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, with the Woman at the Well, the healing of the Man Born Blind, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, all take 40 verses or more. John’s account of the Last Supper – only a few verses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – takes four chapters. But when it comes to the big finish, when we are ready for the trumpets and Hallelujah choruses, instead, the story is told in whispers, confusion, even inconsistency. As Frederick Buechner once observed: “It was the most extraordinary thing they believed had ever happened, and yet they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling.” (“The Secret in the Dark,” Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog)

So we lean in to hear the story begin with Mary, literally in darkness, defeat, and despair. It was over: Jesus’ life, their relationships with him, the kingdom they hoped he would bring. As Fred Craddock once described it: “Jesus is dead and buried. They’ve cleaned out his closet; they’ve given away what few things he had. They have washed and returned the dishes to those who brought food. They’ve written the thank-you notes. The dog has been returned from the vet. The guests are gone. Four loads of laundry have been done. And now comes the routine, the blessed, joyous routine, of life as it was.” (Fred B. Craddock, “And They Said Nothing to Anyone,” The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock, p. 139).

At some time in our lives, we have all been there. Maybe it was after a political campaign that did not go the way we hoped, after the end of a job or a marriage, or – worst of all – after the death of someone of we loved dearly. We are up at night because we cannot sleep, it feels like morning will never come, and we are anxious not only for ourselves but our children and grandchildren and the state of the world. Is there anybody here like Mary weeping? We have all been there. But there is a job left to do, so like Mary we pick ourselves up off the floor and head to Jesus’ tomb.

When we get there, what we find is startling: the stone – the very big stone – is rolled away. Not bothering to enter, Mary runs to alert the men, Simon Peter and the unnamed Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, who run back to see for themselves.

Speaking of the men, where were they? Up to now they have been the stars of the show, but now – when it comes to the hard part, they are nowhere to be found, and it is the women like Mary who do the heavy lifting. Maybe they were sunk in guilt or depression or fear; or maybe they were like men still are today when we are in over our heads: we don’t talk about it, we don’t cry about it, and we certainly don’t ask for help. Typically, the one thing they were good at is running; who but men could turn the resurrection of Jesus into a footrace? (Race you to the tomb; first one there wins!) Even after they got there and went in and saw the abandoned grave clothes, though one believed instantly, we don’t see either of them running to tell anybody about anything. Once again, Mary is left alone at the tomb alone, weeping.

When Mary finally looks into the tomb, the grave clothes have turned into angels. They weren’t very good angels, they must have been like Clarence the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” because instead of saying “Why you seek the living among the dead; he is not here he is risen,” like the angels in the other Gospels, all these angels say is “Woman, WHY are you crying?” More than one of us men – not to mention angels – have gotten into trouble with THAT question. Undeterred, even by these second class angels, Mary says: “They took my master, and I don’t know where they put him.” Is there anybody here like Mary weeping?

Like Mary, there is so much about this story we don’t understand. No one saw Jesus rise from the dead; what happened in that tomb was between Jesus and God. No one knows for sure what happened to Jesus’ body, after all he was resurrected, not resuscitated. Barbara Brown Taylor compares the empty tomb of Jesus to those cicada shells you find on tree: each one has a slit down its back, where the living creature inside had escaped. She adds: “If you had asked them, I’ll bet none of them could tell you where they left their old clothes.” Is it any wonder that throughout history, Easter has been the occasion of our greatest doubt but also of our most profound faith.

Which is why what happens next is the strangest but most important part of the story. As Mary stands there weeping, she turns and sees Jesus, but she doesn’t recognize him, because she thinks it is the gardener. Was it because her eyes were filled with tears, or was it because Jesus had gotten himself some new clothes? (Somewhere in this story there is a naked gardener). Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, Mary said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.” And Mary said, “Rabbi!”, only two words, yet expressing all the emotions involved. I have always loved how the great Scots preacher Peter Marshall put it in his sermon, “The Grave in the Garden:” “Christ had spoken her name, and all of heaven was in it. She uttered only one word, and all of earth was in it.” Says Marshall, “If we believe this, it is one of the loveliest stories in literature. It is a story over which, without shame, men might weep. It is a story which we cannot read without feeling a lump in our throats.” Is there anybody here like Mary weeping?

We get it; it was the voice that did it. There are deep connections in the voices of those we love. My father died five years ago; and about two years ago I was looking for some family connections on the internet and came across an audio archive that a local university professor had put together, to make a people’s history, which he did by interviewing ordinary people, of whom my father was one. When I clicked “play,” and heard my father’s voice again – for the first time since he died – like Mary, I wept. So we understand how Mary’s moment of recognition came through Jesus’ voice, surprisingly unchanged by the transformation he had gone through.

Part of the message of this story is that not everyone takes the same path to Easter faith, there is no “one way” to get there. In this story alone, there are three disciples: one sees the grave clothes neatly folded and believes. Another sees the same thing and there’s no indication he believes anything. Another is surprised into believing by the sound of her name. John leaves room for all of us: for those who see and believe, those who see and remain uncertain, those of us who must hear OUR name called BEFORE we can believe. Whatever the path, whether sudden or slow, faith removes the distance between the first Easter and today.

For Mary, Easter began the moment the gardener said, “Mary!” and she knew who he was. For us, Easter begins when we hear the Gardener call our name, and we know who he is. That’s where the miracle happened and continues to happen – not in an empty tomb long ago and far away – but in our encounter with the living Lord, when He calls our name, in all the ways he does that. Can you hear him, calling your name? (Barbara Brown Taylor, Escape From the Tomb, The Christian Century, April 1, 1998, page 339).

anne-lamottHallelujah AnywayLast week the writer Ann Lamott was here in Chicago to promote her new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. She says she has been traveling around the country for nearly two weeks, and without exception, her audiences have been filled with lovely bright people who feel doomed. On her birthday (April 10), Garrison Keillor profiled her on his “Writer’s Almanac.”

Anne Lamott was born in San Francisco in 1954, to parents who were ardent supporters of social justice and civil rights, but also atheists. But Lamott says: “I always secretly believed that there was a God — I always secretly prayed. I always found these religious kids.”

She was a good student and a talented tennis player, but she had a lot of anxiety. “I was very shy and strange-looking, loved reading above everything else, weighed about forty pounds at the time, and was so tense that I walked around with my shoulders up to my ears, like Richard Nixon […] I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny. I got funny because boys, older boys I didn’t even know, would ride by on their bicycles and taunt me about my weird looks. Each time felt like a drive-by shooting.”

She dropped out of college after two years and decided to become a writer, like her father. She sold some magazine articles and wrote her first novels, but even though she was productive and successful, she was drinking a lot. It got so bad that every morning, she would have to call her friends to find out what had happened the night before, because she couldn’t remember.

One day, when she was really hung over, she heard some old spirituals coming out of a little Presbyterian church in Marin City, California, so she went inside to listen to the music. She went back the next week, and the next, but she never stayed for the sermon. Gradually, she says, she began to feel the presence of Jesus around her. “It would be like a little stray cat. You know, I would kind of nudge him with my feet and say, ‘No,’ because you can’t let him in, because once you let him in and give him milk, you have a little cat, and I didn’t want it. I lived on this tiny little houseboat at the time, and finally one day I just felt like: ‘Oh, whatever. You can come in.’” Through her books, in her distinctive way, Anne continues to witness like Mary long ago: “I have seen the Lord.”

Once we hear his voice, there is no going back to the way things used to be: “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.’” The human Jesus who once lived in one time and place is now the Risen Jesus, accessible in every time and place. Because he lived, died, and arose, everything is different: death is different, and life is different. Though we may not have eyes to see it any more than Mary did Jesus, God’s New Creation has begun. It began in a garden, and began again in yet another garden, until all creation returns to the garden God intended from the very beginning.

Anybody Here Like Mary Weeping? You bet. But at Easter, though we may come with question marks, we exchange them for exclamation points. Though we may come like Mary weeping, thanks to the promise of this day, we leave like Mary rejoicing: “I have seen the Lord.” Amen.


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