Why Are You Weeping?
based on John 20:1-18
by Rev. Thomas Hall
Graverobbers! Disgusting thieves!" Mary
thought. The dead body had already been stripped of any value. She had watched the Roman
soldiers at the execution throwing numbered rocks to divide the prisoners clothes
among themselves. But these burial clothes, blood-stained and caked, they would only be
good for rags. No valuables either. She had never seen jewelry on the man. But someone had
not only rummaged around for valuables but left with the body as well. Well, she thinks,
someone better go and tell the rest that now we dont even have a body to give a
decent burial to.
Peter and "the other disciple" were the first on the scene. They had both
been bleary-eyed when the news first broke. Body missing? What kind of a graverobber
theory is this? they wondered. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do
not know where they have laid him." Peter loses the foot race to the cemetery. Never
was much for running with his spindly legs. What a creepy place! Shadows cast ominous
shadows on the ground in the morning light as they arrived. "There," Mary had
announced, pointing at the gape-mouthed cave. The other disciple peered into the
cave-mausoleum. Too dark to see much. Peter, however, still sputtering and out of breath
brushed past and entered the cave.
"Whoa! Shes right-the bodys missing!" he yelled up to the other
disciple. "Would you look at that?" he shouted, "Graverobbers have been
here and snatched the body!" Strange though, he thought; the linen wrappings were
neatly folded and tucked away-like a bedspread carefully tucked around the pillows.
Whoever took the body wasnt in one bit of a hurry to get out, he noted. The
observation was worth remembering; for whoever had been here had taken the trouble to make
sure the room was cleaned and orderly. Petty thieves just dont do that he admitted.
They just grab the nearest goods and make through the back window. No, whoever did this
body snatching took their own dear time about it. Peter left and went back home; he had a
lot of thinking to do in the early morning hours.
The other disciple still stood before the caves opening alternating between fear
and curiosity. He coaxed and scolded himself down into the crypt. "Hes right!
Shes right!" his words ricocheting off the walls. The scene of folded
graveclothes ignited a memory deeply embedded in the other disciple. The empty tomb, the
folded graveclothes, and head wrappings laying neatly to the side triggered a deep sense
of belief in something beyond, something in Jesus as nothing else could. He also left the
tomb but with a very different verdict than Peters. Evidence doesnt guarantee
faith for everyone, but for the other disciple? "He saw and believed."
The one who had started this whole confusing grave adventure now stood alone again
before the caves opening. She is alone-a solitary figure against the unlighted
opening. But this time she wept.
"Womyn, why are you weeping?" Startled, the womyn peers bug-eyed into the
cave. Two angelic forms sat on the edge of the cocoon-like troughs where Jesus had been
lying. "Why are you weeping, womyn?" they ask. Maybe they knew something about
this body-snatching. "Theyve taken away my Lord," the words were muffled,
the voice hoarse, "and Im not sure where theyve laid him." A slight
breeze brushed her face leaving her and she shivered involuntarily; she had the sense that
another person was watching her every move. She wheeled around to catch unknown eyes
bearing down on her from the entrance of the burial place. "Womyn, why are you
weeping?" Strange. Same question as the one that came from the strangers within the
tomb. "Who are you looking for?" Good. Finally were getting to the bottom
of this, she thought. But why would a gardener ask her who she was looking for? The events
would not have escaped even the most menial laborers attention. Whom? Where has this
guy been? she wondered.
"Sir, please tell me where youve interred the body of Jesus. Im one of
his dear friends. He was accused of hatching a plot against the Roman government. But it
isnt true. I mean, it wasnt true. Then they made him carry that piece of heavy
lumber all the way across town to the Skull-you know the place where they execute enemies
of the State. He healed, he said the most beautiful things about God and the neighborhood
that God wanted to bring. But . . . thats the past. Whats done is done. But
please show me where youve put him. At least I can give him a decent burial.
Mary? Nobody calls me that she thought. No, Im not Mary. Im Magdalene.
Im the psychotic. Im the wino. Im the one whose day began with a pill
and ended with a martini. The womyn who had seven addictions at once. No, Im not
Mary. You must be mistaken. No, not me. The only one who ever called me just
"Mary," was . . ."
"I still remember the day. Its almost three summers ago now since the day I
first heard my name. "Mary." I had passed out on the floor. Wild party.
Dont know how many Romans passed me around while I was in my drunken stupor. But who
cared. My name was hooker. A dirty rag, thats what I was. A chick. Who cares about a
person like that? When I came to, everyone was gone, except a few solders who were still
sleeping it off. Couldnt even focus my eyes. But I heard that word.
"Mary." Not filthy Mary. Not Bad Girl Mary. Not wasted life Mary. But
"Mary." I only heard the word before dropping back off. But something happened
as I slept. I felt like I was being bathed in a stream of pure tears. I felt clean. Pure.
Cleaner than any clothes Ive ever washed. Yet it was a bath that seemed to rub off
all the dirt from the inside out. And when I awoke I discovered that I wasnt
dreaming at all. My name was Mary and I could look people in the eyes. Even if they knew
my old names-I could look them in the face. My name is "Mary."
Well, I began to follow this guy along with a growing number of others whom Jesus had
also called. And each day I felt more healed and wholesome. I really believed in what he
said too. About God looking on our hearts not our clothes. About God loving us so much
that he gave his only Son . . . Wait! Whats the rest of the that line he always used
to say? ". . . gave his only Son that . . . that?
". . . that whoever believes in Me, Mary, that whoever believes in Me would not
perish but have everlasting life."
[ EPILOGUE ]
With whom do you identify with in our lesson? Maybe you identify most closely with
Peter-he sees the empty tomb-but walks away scratching his head. "Peter, what do you
mean you dont yet believe? Youve seen the empty tomb for heavens
sake!" we yell to him. Yet he walks away not yet a believer. Seems like his faith
needs something more; he needs more than just facts and evidence in order to believe. For
many of us too, our Christian faith is not about facts and evidence, somehow stacking
enough data on the scales to tip us toward belief. We see an empty tomb and the neatly
folded and placed clothes and we wonder. For Peter, there will be a series of events that
will become links in a chain That will finally complete his faith, leading him to Christ
and the new life God offers. Along the way, he too, will hear Jesus speak his name but
through a third party, he too will ponder the stories of Easters first witnesses,
and such evidence will culminate in a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus. For
some of us, we need more than just the facts. We need time-and many more links to complete
Maybe, though, on the other hand, you identify with the "the other"
disciple-he makes it look so easy! He just scans the empty tomb and sees the neatly folded
clothes and walks away believing. Some people need little historical evidence, little
theological arguments for the resurrection. They simply believe on the basis of an empty
tomb. They find themselves singing Christ the Lord is Risen Today on Easter Sunday and
somehow apprehend such faith for themselves. They, unlike Peter, emerge from the tomb
humming Handels Hallelujah Chorus.
Or maybe youre more like Mary. She reflects a stubborn kind of faith. She sees
the empty tomb. But the scene doesnt produce resurrection faith. She even sees
angelic messengers sitting in the tomb with Easters message, but yet believes not.
And when the resurrected Lord himself enters conversation with her, yet no faith is born.
But for Mary is the personal word to her-she hears her name called-and then she knows, she
discerns the Lord beyond the words. Jesus calls her by name and that one word leads her to
a living faith.
These early witnesses-the other disciple, Peter, and Mary Magdalene-remind us that
coming to faith is not an assembly line product but a dynamic process; faith comes through
a complex of interactions between our personalities, contexts and histories. Whether
through immediate decision to encounter the resurrected Lord or through a long and
circuitous route, God will lead us home to the Mystery of who Jesus Christ was and is for
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.