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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 prisoner’s 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 don’t 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! She’s right-the body’s 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 wasn’t 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 don’t 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 cave’s opening alternating between fear and curiosity. He coaxed and scolded himself down into the crypt. "He’s right! She’s 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 Peter’s. Evidence doesn’t 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 cave’s 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. "They’ve taken away my Lord," the words were muffled, the voice hoarse, "and I’m not sure where they’ve 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 we’re 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 laborer’s attention. Whom? Where has this guy been? she wondered.

"Sir, please tell me where you’ve interred the body of Jesus. I’m one of his dear friends. He was accused of hatching a plot against the Roman government. But it isn’t true. I mean, it wasn’t 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 . . . that’s the past. What’s done is done. But please show me where you’ve put him. At least I can give him a decent burial.


Mary? Nobody calls me that she thought. No, I’m not Mary. I’m Magdalene. I’m the psychotic. I’m the wino. I’m the one whose day began with a pill and ended with a martini. The womyn who had seven addictions at once. No, I’m not Mary. You must be mistaken. No, not me. The only one who ever called me just "Mary," was . . ."

"I still remember the day. It’s almost three summers ago now since the day I first heard my name. "Mary." I had passed out on the floor. Wild party. Don’t know how many Romans passed me around while I was in my drunken stupor. But who cared. My name was hooker. A dirty rag, that’s 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. Couldn’t 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 I’ve 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 wasn’t 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! What’s 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."


"Mary." "Rabboni!"


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 don’t yet believe? You’ve seen the empty tomb for heaven’s 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 Easter’s 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 the chain.

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 Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

Or maybe you’re more like Mary. She reflects a stubborn kind of faith. She sees the empty tomb. But the scene doesn’t produce resurrection faith. She even sees angelic messengers sitting in the tomb with Easter’s 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 us now.

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.