Sacred Tears

mary-magdalene-noli-giottoA sermon offered on Easter Day, April 12, 2020. Because our church is closed to the public during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, our worship services have been adjusted, streamed live, and recorded. The scriptures are Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18

Watch the sermon HERE.

I’ve always envied the sort of person who cries easily. You know the type—when they’re sad, they cry. When they’re frustrated, sometimes they cry. When they’re angry—the tears flow freely.

I’m not like that. My tears are a little unpredictable. I’m told it’s because I keep a lot of things inside, and so emotions like sadness and frustration and anger—surface when they can’t stay hidden any longer. For example, when a beloved parishioner dies, I can often show up in all the appropriate ways, visit with the family and friends, lead a funeral, and not shed a tear. But then, a day or two later, watching an insurance commercial on television, I’ll dissolve in tears. It’s not the actors on tv who getting to me, but for whatever reason, I sometimes have a delayed reaction when it comes to tears.

I’ve been like that around the Covid-19 coronavirus. I read about the virus making people sick in China and about huge numbers of people dying. And they it began to move through Europe. I paid close attention and prayed, but I don’t think I cried. As people in our area began getting sick, and then acquaintances and friends of friends began dying, I’ve prayed harder, and thought deeply. But then, on about the 3rd or 4th night of the 7pm NYC “thank you for healthcare workers,” it hit me. I was walking the dog, and had forgotten about the time, and all of a sudden, I was swept up in the cheers, and the applause and the horns. And my own tears came full force.

Maybe we all carry certain societal and cultural baggage about crying in public, about “keeping it together,” and about keeping a stiff upper lip. But tears are a part of life. They’re with us at the very beginning; they’re 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 notice that it’s only by looking through her tears, that she begins to see. First, 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 it’s Jesus. He asks her the same question and again, through her tears, she recognizes him.

Tears can 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, was a 7th century monk who wrote about tears. He said, “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.” On this Sunday when the Church often baptizes and makes new Christians, when we often reaffirms baptismal vows, it’s helpful to hear (this year) that image of tears as a kind of second baptism. As such, tears are a help to our spiritual life. They are a help to our prayers.

When the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, to weaken the already weak, and to bring down many of the strong, tears are in order. When so many people are losing jobs and workplaces, tears are called for. When we see the freezer trucks outside hospitals, the makeshift medical centers in a park and a tennis center, and read of new burials on Hart Island, tears are perhaps the only faithful response.

But tears can lead the way of prayer. Mary Magdalene’s tears are a crucial detail, I think. Because it is only through her tears, that Mary begins to see Jesus. And 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 and we are changed because of it.

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. But before the butterfly, there’s a caterpillar. What eventually becomes the butterfly, has to crawl before it can fly. And in the cocoon, there’s a messy, death-like process. 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).

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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