Seeing Resurrection through Tears

mary-magdalene-noli-giottoA sermon for Easter Day, April 1, 2018.  The scripture readings are Acts 10:34-431 Corinthians 15:1-11Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, and John 20:1-18.

Listen to the sermon HERE.

One of my favorite people in Christian history is a fifteenth-century woman named Margery Kempe. Margery had visions of God’s love. She struggled with sin and challenge, but she kept praying. She knew her scriptures and would often preach in the streets and talk about God.  But more than anything else, Margery would cry.

She had the gift of tears, and boy, did she share her gift. She cried on her way to Rome and to Santiago de Compostela. She cried as she visited all the important religious sites of England, and she shared her tears with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Lincoln, and the holy woman Julian of Norwich.

Margery not only cried for herself, but she also cried for others.  She cried for the sins and the pains of the world.  Margery joins those from the whole Christian Tradition whose bond with Christ is so deep, so pure, so real; that their expression of love, of penitence, of compassion… comes out not in words, but through tears.  This is called, appropriately enough, the “gift of tears.”  And what a gift!

Especially in our own day, to be able to cry in the face of pain or sin or frustration and connect that pain to the pain of God is a rare gift.  Our culture still hides pain and holds back tears. Many still lift up Jackie Kennedy’s reserved grief as a model.  We make fun of politicians who cry—remember Speaker Boehner?  When a reporter cries during an interview or a story, we question their objectivity. We tell children, and friends, and ourselves—“don’t cry,” or “there’s no need to cry.”

But tears are a part of life. They’re with us at the very beginning, and they’re often with us at the very end. Tears are in our mothers’ eyes when we’re born and tears are in the eyes of those who love us, when we die.

And this morning, we have tears in our Easter Story. They are the tears of Mary Magdalene.  And perhaps there are even a few tears of our own.

Mary comes to the tomb early on Easter morning and she finds the great stone over the entrance has been moved away. She runs and tells Simon Peter and John. They then look into the tomb and find the linen cloths, but see no body. The disciples leave the tomb and go back their homes.

But Mary stays outside the tomb, weeping. She weeps as she looks into the tomb, but it’s only by looking through her tears, that she begins to see. She sees what looks like two angels. “Why are you weeping,” they ask. She turns around and sees who she thinks is the gardener, but who turns out to be Jesus. He asks her the same question and through her tears, she recognizes him.

Tears sometimes express loss, regret, sorrow, and especially sorrow for sins.  Tears show that we’re connected, we’re aware, and we—to some extent, at least—acknowledge we are a part of things, when they go rightly, and when they go wrongly.

St. John Climacus (7th century) wrote: “God in His love for [us] gave us tears. . . If God in His mercy had not granted to [us] this second baptism, then few indeed would be saved. . . When our soul departs from this life, we shall not be accused because we have not worked miracles . . .but we shall all certainly have to account to God because we have not wept unceasingly for our sins.”  Because we have not wept….

John calls tears a “second baptism.”  So tears can be a form of prayer.  And sometimes it’s the most appropriate form of prayer.

When there is yet another school shooting. Tears are called for.  When another young black person is shot—in the back, in his grandparent’s yard—tears are where we should start.  Where whole countries and regions spiral downward in war and hopelessness, tears are in order.  And when the majority of our own country sees a rising stock as the only measure of success—(telling the poor, refugees, immigrants, the elderly, and the sick that you’ve got to take care of yourself)– a person of Christian faith, at some point, needs to simply stop and cry.

Mary’s tears are a crucial detail, I think.  Because it is only through her tears, that Mary begins to see Jesus. Through her tears she begins to see the possibilities for new life.

The tears are necessary. They are cathartic, they are helpful. Tears testify that something powerful is happening, sometimes something beautiful, sometimes something horrible, but it is some- thing. It exists.  It has meaning and purpose.

Mary stands at the tomb weeping—for how long, we don’t know. Perhaps, like Psalm 30, her “Weeping had spent the night….” She probably knew the psalm (42) that speaks of tears being one’s only food, day and night.  She might have known Psalm 56 that affirms, “You have noted my lamentation; put my tears into your bottle,” that God notices tears.

And yet, Mary’s tears move her.  They take her to a new place. Her weeping makes a way as she realizes that Jesus is alive and that he has risen.

Mary’s tears remind us that Easter is not just about lilies, and bunnies, and butterflies. Because even for what becomes the butterfly, it moves from crawling to flying, and thers’s a messy, death-like process. If you opened a cocoon, you’d find a gooey mess. The caterpillar almost has to completely decompose before it can begin to develop into a butterfly.  But new life comes.

Before a new project can be started, an old one has to die in some way. Before a new habit or discipline can begin, an old one usually has to die out. Before following a new dream, an old one has to recede. Good Friday’s FINISH makes possible a new chapter in our spiritual, or social, or emotional life, the old has to be let go.

In the Revelation to John, God promises a day when, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4).

Tears can seem foolish—especially the tears of all the “fools for Christ,” like Mary Magdalene, like St. Francis, like Margery Kempe, like others…. But especially on this April Fool’s Easter, let us give thanks for the gift of tears.

Let us give thanks that Christ’s death and resurrection means for us that no matter how hard things may seem (or how blessed), how far away God (or how close), no matter how many tears—God makes a way into new life, risen with Christ.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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