Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Friday, December 13, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Woman, why are you weeping?” April 24, 2011
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other 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." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" 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 Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, 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 she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:1-18
They say that God is in the details? I’m wondering. Each one of the Gospels has an account of Easter morning at the tomb. Mark has the fewest details and the one we just heard, John’s Gospel, has the most. As I studied the details, I couldn’t help but wonder what this story might sound like if CSI: Jerusalem got a hold of it.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw yellow police tape blocking the entrance. Men in uniform and in plain clothes were shining flashlights in every nook and cranny. So Mary ran to her friends, Simon Peter and the other disciple, and said, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”
The two disciples ran together, but the other disciple outran Peter and made it to the tomb first. A burly policeman stopped him, but the disciple was able to bend down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Out of breath from running, Peter finally made it to the tomb just as the detectives finished their work.
“You a friend of his?” the detective asked Peter. Peter had to think about that.
“You might as well go in,” the cop said, “We’ve done all we can do here. Let us know if you hear anything.” He gave Simon Peter one of his cards.
Peter entered the tomb cautiously. He saw the linen wrappings lying all around, and the cloth that had been placed on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.” (Thanks to retired Rev. Bob Olmstead for this novel way of thinking about this text).
As any good cop will tell you, details are important, but they won’t necessarily lead you to the big picture. For that, you have to grasp a larger vision.
My own father passed away at Easter time 4 years ago. Wracked with dementia, he ended his days at a care home in Petaluma. Three days after his death, I took some of my wife’s chocolate chip cookies down to the staff to say thanks for the care they extended him in the five months he lived there.
While I was there, I went down to his room one last time, and, when I walked in, I encountered his empty bed. This sight is always jarring to me. I’ve had it happen any number of times as a chaplain and as a pastor. Usually, I’m left trying to decipher the message of the empty bed.
Did the person get better? Did they go to a different floor of the hospital, or maybe back home? Perhaps they got worse, went down to ICU. All the empty bed really tells you is that the person you were looking for is not here.
This time I knew in the deepest possible way what had happened. I did not need to grasp a bigger vision, that vision lived inside of me.
The empty bed. Where once life existed, it is no more. What was once a life with layer upon layer of complexity, now exists as a memory; a fresh memory, but a memory nonetheless. Or does his life now become something more?
In looking at this empty bed, I’m seeing sheets, and the blankets tightly tucked; pillowcase clean and fresh, the pillow fluffed up and ready for a new occupant. What I’m imagining is a lifetime.
My Dad’s roommate was lying on his bed when I came in and I knew that he, too, was battling dementia, so I learned to expect no intricate conversations with him. He asked me if I was looking for someone and when I told him my Dad died, he said he was sorry to hear that, and then he said “You know, he’s not here.”
I chuckled inside at the irony. Those are the words of detail from the 24th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, “He’s not here…but he has risen.”
I found a plastic bag on the night stand with the remainder of my Dad’s clothing in it. More irony. From the police report, or John’s Gospel, we just heard Simon Peter’s experience when he enters the tomb: “… He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.”
There is a book by Sigmund Brouwer called “The Carpenter’s Cloth” and it says this about the folded cloth found in the tomb. "During Jesus' time, there was a certain way a carpenter let the contractor know that a job was finished. A signature, so to speak. The cloth, or towel, or rag used by a carpenter to clean up after work was commonly left folded in place on top of the wood-working project.
Later, whoever arrives to inspect the work will see the towel and understand its simple message. The work is finished. Christ's disciples, of course, knew this carpenter's tradition. They see the cloth and know the work is finished. I can imagine how Simon Peter must have felt. It’s an empty bed. The clothes are on the night stand. It’s over.
Or is it?
Peter and the other disciple, they go home. It seems that they have left the grave too soon. Were you and I disciples of Jesus back in the day, I daresay, we probably would have left too soon. But not everyone left.
Mary Magdalene finds herself unable to leave. She is immobilized by her grief. It has all become too much. She, too, has absorbed the details of the scene, but they have failed to satisfy anything for her; yet getting up and leaving is hardly an option in her distress.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” Where do we begin?
Yes, she is weeping for Jesus. Lest we forget, this is Mary Magdalene, of Da Vinci Code fame. Many of you have read the Da Vinci Code or have seen the movie. The book is the 2nd highest selling novel of all time behind Harry Potter. Could Mary Magdalen and Jesus have been married? That would certainly explain the tears.
Or are these tears the symbols of grief finally poured out by someone who witnessed the gruesome death of a close friend? And now, in a final insult, she imagines someone has stolen her friend’s body? Not only has hope disappeared, but it is accompanied by a final act of desecration.
Well, in fact, these tears at the tomb are timely, always have been. They represent a much wider pool of tears. One of the lesser-acknowledged realities of life is that everyone sits next to a pool of their own tears. This pool is sizable. We often pretend it is not there. We do so at our peril.
For two millenia now, people have found solace and comfort in these tears that Mary wept. And two weeks ago, also in John’s Gospel, we encountered the passage where Jesus himself wept. He wept over the death of his friend, Lazarus, remember Lazarus? His death devastated his family. But Jesus also wept, we learned, because he had dawdled around and did not immediately go to his friend, even though he received the message that Lazarus was ill. He messed up.
Folks, after about the age of three, our tears are never about just one thing. They come in response to all of our losses, all of our screw-ups. In that way they’re a safety valve. Tears ease the burden of the past and free us to face our future. Jesus went there, and now he goes on ahead of us.
It is no co-incidence that Mary encounters Jesus at her low point, that is where he said he wound be. He still does. And in truth, Jesus calls us to meet the world at its point of deepest grief--beside its pool of tears, the place where all ministry happens. Serving others in the name of Christ will always create an intersection between suffering and hope.
But back to the details at the tomb. Is this a crime scene, or something else?
The most overlooked detail is also the most mundane--it’s the one where Mary simply turns around. When she finally turns away from the fascinating physical details, that’s when she encounters Jesus. One preacher I read this week, Robert Flaherty said, this story is not as much about the resurrection of Jesus, but the resurrection of Mary.
The Easter story, for me, at least, is not about explaining the details of the empty tomb but of testing them out. Where do you need resurrection? How can we get ourselves turned around enough to be able to see what is holy?
An actor was being interviewed on a TV talk show. He said, “You know, it’s exhausting living in this decade because there’s nothing to look forward to, and no one to look up to. You see it everywhere! Politics are at a stalemate. Therapies come and therapies go. Can you count on them? Careers are the same way...but worst of all is people. You dare not have any heroes today, because as sure as you do, they will come tumbling down and disappoint you. (Thanks to Dr. Norman Heaves, Church of the Servant, Oklahoma City.)
I can’t argue with how this actor views life. It is all too true.
But I don’t have to, you don’t have to, choose to see it that way. I guess I would ask him to take another look. Mary did, once she turned around. The one whom she thought was the gardner turned out to be the gardner after all. He planted new hope in her heart. He was the one who would allow her to face the future.
Mary, Simon Peter, and the other disciple came to embalm a dead memory, but they were given a living hope.
Dag Hammarskjold once said “...our forbears came into a world where their dreams were limited by their resources, but that we live in a world where our resources are limited only by our vision.” (Thanks again to Rev. Bob Olmstead).
Jesus came that we might change direction, turn around, which is the meaning of repent. Released from the fear of death, we can let go of our fear of life. We each will leave an empty bed for someone else to find, what tale will yours tell?
Details might tell you how Jesus died, but they won’t tell you how he lives. That will be up to you.