Sunday, March 27, 2016

Woman, why are you crying?

Read John 20

Before the Spirit left his body, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

His atoning sacrifice was complete.  Jesus stood in our place and took the punishment for all sin upon himself, the only human flesh that could be an Unblemished Lamb for us.

We can understand this somewhat.  We have the benefit of hindsight and scriptural explanations that would follow.  Blood must be shed for the forgiveness of sins.  It was.

Why must blood be shed?  That’s something to ask Jesus on a slow day in eternity.  We have no shortage of theories and suppositions, but for this age all that we can say it that it was required and it was accomplished.

The sacrifice was complete.

What did that mean 2000 years ago?

The Jews had this trouble maker out of the way.  The Romans surely wanted nothing more to do with this matter.  The disciples had scattered and were disoriented.  They reconstituted physically, but emotionally they were devastated.

A secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.  He could not let it hang on that cross with the Sabbath so near.  He was assisted by Nicodemus.  They moved the body to a nearby tomb that had never been used.

Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds worth and these two men wrapped the body in linen.  They had to hurry.  Sundown brought the Sabbath and while many extraordinary things had occurred over the past few hours; these men would observe God’s law and the Sabbath day that God had established and Jesus had said it was made for them.

We can only imagine what transpired from Friday evening to Sunday morning.  Somehow, the disciples had come back together, surely afraid of what might happen to them.  Jesus had told them that the very thing that had them so distraught must happen.  He even told them what would come next.

But they did not comprehend.

The story that begins the first day of the week—Sunday—begins with Mary Magdalene.  Other gospels mention other women, but John notes only this Mary.  She started for the tomb while it was still dark.  People with a casual interest in something don’t get up at zero dark thirty.  Mary did.

She arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away.  Had it been in place, it is not clear what she hoped to accomplish, but it had been rolled away.

We don’t get the full witness statement here.  Did Mary look in the tomb?  Did she go in?  We don’t know.  All we know is what she reported.

They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they put him.

The culprit for this unthinkable act has been the culprit of the ages—they.  They did it.  They took him.  It is their fault.

Perhaps Mary analyzed the evidence:  Stoned rolled back, empty tomb; it must be they—surely it took many of them in any case—who did this.  They took him.  They put him somewhere.

Mary does all that she knows to do.  She runs back to Peter and another disciple, whom most presume to be John—the author of this gospel—and gives them the news.

Peter and John race to the tomb.  John wins the race but stops at the entrance to the tomb.  Peter zooms right on by him.  Peter was like that.  Dive in head first and see what happens.

John followed.

There were burial strips and a folded cloth but no body.  There was no Jesus.  The scripture said that they saw and believed; but did not comprehend what had happened.  Surely there was some Proverbs 3:5-6 wrestling going on at that point.

Jesus had been telling them for some time that he must go to Jerusalem.  He would be killed, and on the third day he would rise from the dead.

The disciples heard this but it never quite registered.  I compare this to me attending a risk management class in the late 1990’s.  I was the only program manager in the class.  The rest of the class were bona fide geeks, some even had slide rules and like to use them.  This was in the age of computers and mega-calculators, they wanted to work out these complicated risk equations by hand.

I bought the software that did all of this stuff behind the scenes.  For the risk equations that I had to do as part of the class, I was glad when they were finished.  The geeks wanted more problems to work.

These two disciples believed what they could wrap their minds around, but surely did not comprehend the magnitude of what had happened.  There was some cognitive dissonance between what they were doing their best to believe and their understanding of what they believed.
These two men did the only thing they could think to do.  

They went home.

Sometime during this epiphany by the men, Mary had made her way back to the tomb.  She is not listed among the contenders in the race described only between Peter and John.  Perhaps she walked back and caught her breath as she had already run back to report her earlier observations.

Whatever the case, she was at the tomb again, and she stood outside the entrance crying.  She bent over and looked inside and this time there were two angels in white seated where the body of Jesus had been.

The angels spoke and in one of the few times where angels have speaking parts in the New Testament, they don’t begin what they have to say with “Fear not!”

Instead, they ask:  “Woman, why are you crying?”

Mary surely exasperated, replied, “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him.”

We might think that the angels were a little callous.  Did they not know the anguish of this woman?

I have visited the homes of families that had just lost a loved one many times and never have I thought of beginning a conversation with the phrase, “Why are you crying?”

Were these the only angels available for duty on that weekend?  Weren’t there some with better tact?  C’mon, really, who begins a conversation on a day such as this with “Why are you crying?”

What were they thinking?

In the late 1980’s, I was stationed on independent duty in Des Moines, Iowa.  My mission was to train reservists and make sure they were ready to deploy to combat.  We didn’t do things the traditional way that reserves train with a show up Saturday morning and go home Sunday afternoon.

We came in Friday evening and trained until late Sunday afternoon.  We did our best to squeeze 2 weeks of training into about 50 hours.  You had to throw in a little sleep because some of these young men had a hundred miles to drive home at the end of the weekend.

As the end of the training drew near, I would gather with the reserve officers as the Marines did their final inspections and turned in their weapons.  This was a critical time as I had to make sure the officers were already tuning in for the next month’s training.  I did not want to be interrupted.

On one occasion, my admin chief—a gunnery sergeant—kept sticking his head in the door raising a finger that he just needed a moment.  I gave him the look that said “no.”  He did this a couple more times and I gave him the look a couple more times.

This was my time with these officers before they returned to were often consumed by their civilian jobs.  Did the gunny not get this?  He had access to me all week long.  These few men in my office were going home in a few minutes.  Didn’t he get it?

I need to tell you something about this gunnery sergeant.  After about 145 years, he had finally gotten season tickets to the Minnesota Vikings.  He was a diehard fan and had finally got what he had wanted for decades.  He also had a bookie.
So on the weekends that we didn’t have reserve training, he would go to the game and pick up “cards” from his bookie.

He would always give me one.  I gave him five bucks and quickly picked my winners from a dozen or so games.  It was five bucks I never intended to see again and I was too busy to make intelligent guesses.

I had given my card and five buck to the gunnery sergeant earlier that week and had forgotten all about it.  It surely was not on my mind while I was trying to cram a two hour meeting with these officers into twenty minutes.

Finally, the gunny just couldn’t contain himself and burst into the meeting and stood in front of my desk and said, “You won!”

Evidently, I had picked all of the winners.  I think it amounted to about $150 that I won, but it was still something that couldn’t be contained.

The gunnery sergeant hand been pacing outside of my door surely thinking, “Why is he upset with me?   Does he not know why I need to see him?  Does he not know the news?”
Does he not know?

The gunny had some great news and I wasn’t ready to hear it.  Really?

Two angels were sitting in a tomb one morning and a woman shows up crying.  How can she be crying?  Does she not know what has happened?  Did he not tell them ahead of time?

Woman, why are your crying?

Mary was at the center of the greatest event in all of history.  How could she be crying?

You know what happened next.  She has this encounter with a man whom she believes to be the gardener and even asks him if he knows where the body might be.

“If you did it, it’s okay; just let me go get him.”  Mary wonders if the “they” who took the body might be this man, but she can’t alienate him if she wants to recover the body of her Lord.

She does not know with whom she is speaking.  This man asks the same thing as the angels, “Why are you crying?”

All Mary wants is the body—“please let me have him!”  Mary needs to tend to the body of her Lord who was killed in such a brutal manner and buried in haste.

But in an instant, in a single word, her concerns are gone.

She looks again at this man and knows him to be Jesus.  “Rabboni, Rabbi, Teacher” was all that she said but in that moment she knew that she served a risen Savior.

In that moment, she understood the question:  Why are your crying?

This time her report to the disciples was not just of an empty tomb but of a risen Lord.  They would not see him until later, but Mary’s questions had all been answered in an instant.

We know the whole story.  We don’t have to live it moment to moment.  We know the sacrifice required to take away our sin was made.

We know that death was defeated.

We know that the grave could not hold Jesus.

We know that he did exactly what he said he would do.

We know that in this resurrection is not only life for Jesus but for us all.

We know the assurance that Jesus gave in the Great Commission:  I am with your always even to the very end of the age.

We know the Spirit has been given to us.

We know that God will not leave us or forsake us.

We know the depth and breadth of God’s love in this sacrifice and resurrection.

So how could we ever be sad?

How could we ever be afraid?

How could we ever be discouraged?

How could the temporal pressures of this world take away our joy?

We know the whole story from that first Easter morning and we know the joy behind the question:  “Why are you crying?”

This is a day of celebration like no other.  There is no room for anguish and anxiety. 

Jesus Christ is risen and we know that to be true.  We know that we serve a risen savior and that in him we have life, life abundant, and life eternal.

It reminds me of a Bible verse familiar to us all.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

The cross is empty.  The grave is empty.  Jesus offers us life that is full.

Today we celebrate our victory in Jesus.  Cry if you must, but let them be tears of joy!


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