Why Are You Crying?
I’ve always believed that God has a sense of humor. Earlier this year, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw that Valentine's Day fell on Ash Wednesday. Nothing like taking your date to church and being told, "you are dust...and to dust you will return." On top of that, Easter this year was on April Fool’s Day, the first time that’s happened since 1956. One of my friend’s kids put it best. The mom and kids were driving in the car when the daughter comments about how perfect it is that Easter is on April Fool's Day this year. When the mom asks her why, she responds, "Because everybody thought Jesus was dead and then he comes back and is like, ‘April Fool’s, suckers!!'" Now, I admit, that by nature I’m somebody who avoids sadness. I probably laugh too much, including at my own bad jokes. But, as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us, "there is a time for everything...a time to laugh and a time to weep." One of the things I’ve noticed about my two small children is that nothing makes them madder than for someone to laugh at them, especially when they’re hurting. As a parent, that means you have to learn to stifle those grins, because they're so cute when they're mad! Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans to "be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying." And the truth is, that while Easter may be a day of laughter and celebration, there are a whole lot of people who are hurting. In fact, the first Easter begins, not with laughter, but with tears.
Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” (John 20:11-15)
"Why are you crying?" It’s one of hundreds of questions Jesus asks in the Gospels, from someone who seems to love making us scratch our heads more than giving us all the answers. Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene makes her way to the tomb. Who is this woman? Luke and Mark tell us that Jesus set her free from seven demons. Tradition labels her as a prostitute and identifies her as the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume. But our clearest picture of her is in the garden. Seeing the stone rolled away, Mary’s heart lurches. Modern people sometimes scoff at the idea of miracles, but Mary's reaction shows that she is just like us. After years of pain, years of hardship and heartache, she looks in the empty tomb and begins to cry. "Why are you crying?" two strangers ask her. Without looking up, she answers between sobs, "They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they put him." Then, a familiar voice repeats the question behind her. "Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?" But Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus through her tears. Focused on the heartache of this life, on her grief and disappointment, she can’t imagine even the possibility of resurrection. Until the gardener says her name, "Mary," and all her tears turn to laughter in the Risen Savior’s arms.
What about you? In a way, we are all making our way to the tomb with grief hidden beneath our polite smiles and carefully curated social media accounts. While there is plenty to grieve in the headlines, the deepest kind of pain is always personal. Maybe, like Mary, you’ve lost somebody you love, someone who died before you were ready to let them go. Maybe you’ve made some terrible mistakes. Maybe you’ve been hurt, and that pain has blurred your vision so badly that you can’t imagine the possibility of resurrection in your life. But through the tears, listen, and you will hear a familiar voice. "Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?" You may not recognize him at first. But Jesus is there. He is alive. And he is no stranger to your pain. You can find him in every hospital patient who cracks a joke, in every exhausted mother who cradles a newborn, in every family that sings between tears at a funeral, "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow!" You can find him on Sunday mornings, in the water and the Word, in the bread and juice, in the faces next to you. It’s true, hardship and heartache are an unavoidable part of this life. But as your eyes begin to focus on Jesus, you discover something else: joy. "Blessed are you who weep," Jesus said, "because you will laugh." In the greatest joke God ever pulled on the world, Jesus refused to stay dead. And one day, we will rise with him, and all of our tears will turn to laughter in the Risen Savior’s arms.
Paul Brown is the pastor of Central UMC in Canton, NC