Here’s our Easter sermon from Pastor Brandon Wrencher. Listen through to the end to hear “O Mary Don’t You Weep!” led by Erica Wrencher. (Posting this as part of our Inspiration for Beloved Community Series.)
Our passage of Scripture this Easter Sunday comes from John 20:11-18.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” 16 “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). 17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
This is the Word of God for us the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Pray with me.
If this is a man’s world, like the late James Brown told us, then God certainly didn’t get the memo. We find in all the Gospel stories women being the first to encounter the empty tomb and risen Jesus. Women, those whose testimony would be the last to be believed in that day, are the first preachers of the gospel, the first to tell the good news of the risen Lord. Mary Magdalene stands front and center in John’s account of the resurrection. We know very little of her background except that she was a faithful follower of Jesus, she even provided financially for Jesus’ ministry.
Mary is no wavering disciple, like Peter and the other male disciples who denied Jesus. And yet, the gospel writer presents her as incredibly human: Mary cries. Mary’s tears are the focus of this story. Our passage of Scripture is awash in tears. Four times the Greek word for crying shows up in the original Greek text. Mary’s tears signal the pain and suffering of life, her tears signal the human condition. This is no false gospel that says if you do the right things in life, or are born into privilege and comfort and status that God promises you blessings and ease. If the best of Jesus’ disciples weep, then all of our tears have a place in this life.
What have you been crying over lately? And I don’t only mean the kind that fall from your eyes. What is the cause of the sadness you’ve felt? The pain, the hurt, the worry, the doubt, the anger, the frustration? What’s causing it? Where are things just not quite right in your life, not quite the way you feel things ought to be? These are tears, whether they fall from your eyes or not. Rarely do we notice anybody’s but our own, though. Even more rare do we notice those collective tears, the tears of a group, of a people.
The tears of Kenya as it weeps over the 147 and counting that died at Kenya College at the hands of terrorists. The tears of black and brown mothers whose innocent children have died at the hands of police. The tears of the land crying over human indifference and greed. The tears of prisoners whose stories seem bleak because of a criminal justice system that is more determined to bring punishment and death than rehabilitation and restoration. The tears of the hungry and homeless while we build new houses, and buy new cars claiming there’s not enough to go around. The tears of ASU over the deaths of so many of its students to suicide. The tears of so many in Todd over the weight of decline, over its sense of loss of community, of agency, of neighborliness. This church has even cried its own tears over a membership that was once down to three or four and almost closing its doors forever, to now struggling to demonstrate to this community that we care, that we are a safe space, that we have something to offer. These beautiful windows tell that story and beyond.
We don’t have to run from or be ashamed of our tears. They are not easy, they represent the crosses in our lives. It’s hard to see beyond the brutality of a cross. Our tears fog our vision, and yet also help us to see God most clearly.
“Dear woman, why are you crying? Jesus asked her.”
Here, Jesus is the one who doesn’t gloss over tears. Jesus doesn’t scold her, though he has answers. Jesus asks a question that focuses in even more on Mary’s condition. Jesus seeks to identify with her, empathize with her even. Jesus calls her name, he recognizes her. He doesn’t try to speak for her; he gives her the space to name for herself what she faces, and what she longs for. Jesus is a pastor to Mary, a listening presence. He knows all about tears. The most powerful verse in Scripture is but two words: Jesus wept. Jesus identifies with us in our tears.
Father Thomas Keating puts it this way: “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from Him … We fail to believe that we are always with God and that He is part of every reality…The interior experience of God’s presence activates our capacity to perceive Him in everything else – in people, in events, in nature” (Open Mind Open Heart, 44). In our tears, God chooses to be bound to us, nailed to us even. And yet if our tears, if Jesus’ tears were the end of the story, we’d be doomed. Friends aren’t you glad that our tears aren’t the end of the story. Amen? In Jesus, the cross always gives way to resurrection, tears always give way to hope!
Jesus’ listening presence to Mary prepares us all for the Great Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the one that comforts us in our tears and has the power to establish our hopes and bring about our freedom. The same Spirit of liberation and deliverance that anointed Jesus in the Gospel of Luke to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim God’s abundance to all. It makes me recall an old spiritual that my slave ancestors wrote and used to sing called “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” The chorus goes like this:
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn
Pharoah’s army got drownded
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep
My slave ancestors saw a connection between Mary’s experience of weeping over Jesus and Moses weeping with Israel over their oppression. Exodus 3 reads:
7 Then the LORD told [Moses], “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land.
Though my slave ancestors had every reason to reject the God of the bible that slave owners used to keep them down, they creatively came to believe that the same God that heard the cries of Israel and brought deliverance, also heard Mary’s cry and would certainly come to her rescue….and that their own cries under the terrorist system of American slavery would be heard by the ever present God of Israel and Mary to “provide comfort, healing and deliverance … no matter how impossibly painful [the situation].”1
Like Moses, God sends Mary forth to share good news of God’s presence and deliverance, of the freedom and hope that God is bringing. Friends this is gospel. In Jesus’ resurrection, our tears give way to hope and freedom.
And so friends, I leave us with two questions to carry with us as we leave this place:
1) What are the tears, the areas of pain, of brokenness, of shame, of hurt in your life and in others’ lives? That last part is crucial. Do you notice not only your tears, but the tears of others’ as well?
2) How will you share with others the freedom and hope that God is determined to bring forth through these tears?
Friends, our tears are genuine. Evil and sin and pain seek destruction in us and in our world. But evil and death don’t have the last word. Life has the last word! And so friends you may be crying this morning, the tears of our lives are enough to keep us up at night, to maybe even drive you to despair. Can I give you some promises that God gives us for our tears? The bible says that:
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
I heard the psalmist say that:
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15)
David goes on to say:
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. (Psalm 18:6)
And my favorite one y’all is from John in the book of Revelation. John said:
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Rev 21:3-5)
Tears turned to joy. Because Jesus was raised, our tears make way for freedom and hope.