April 22, 2011

Why Do You Weep?

by Ragan Sutterfield
Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

“Why do you weep?”  That seems to be the central question of the Gospel reading this Easter Sunday.   It is the question the angels ask of Mary when she looks into the tomb; it is the question the resurrected Christ asks when he finds Mary in the garden and she mistakes him for the gardener. 

When the other disciples, Peter and John, came to see that the tomb was empty, they left—satisfied with the reality they thought they understood—Jesus was gone, his body taken, one more event in a series of tragedies that had seen their hopes for a new reality gone.   But Mary remained with the question—she stayed with the empty tomb, the trace of the Lord she still loved, the death she didn’t claim to understand.  It is by staying that she is present for the questioning of her perception—“Woman, why do you weep?”

It is a question that means everything—it is a question that indicates an event that’s about to happen, that will smash open what seemed to happen and let it fade against the reality of what happened—Christ overcame death with love.  “Woman, why do you weep?”

Behind the question is the victory of God, the triumph of love, the faithfulness of a God who says, in our Old Testament reading, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31.3)  Mary should be saying with the Psalmist “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever!” (118:1) But Mary has not yet recognized what has happened—she has not seen the angels for who they are or Jesus for who he is. 

In her beautiful essay, “Psalm Eight,” Marilynne Robinson reflects on John’s account of the resurrection and points us to the profound reality of Mary’s lack of recognition—that she lost Jesus in the ordinariness with which he appeared, that she mistook him for the gardener.  Jesus did not appear, after he overcame death and conquered with love, as a god like Lord Krishna, finally revealing himself behind the mask of humanity.   The resurrected Christ comes in plain clothes—a gardener, a stranger traveling the road to Emmaus, a man offering fishing tips and a warm fire on the beach.  “It seems to me,” Robinson writes, “that the narrative, in its most dazzling vision of holiness, commends to us beauty of an altogether higher order than spectacle, that being mere commonplace, ineffable humanity.”  Christ does not light up in some flash or grand show of smoke as he might in a Hollywood revelation—he is revealed in the glory of man. 

Mary’s recognition comes when Christ calls her name.  “Mary!”  We can imagine the tone—the sweet call to attention—listen, look, God is with you, love has overcome.  The reality of what has happened sinks in and overcomes.  There is the temptation, like that of the transfiguration, to dwell with the recognition, but Jesus tells her to go and tell the other disciples that he is going to be with “my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”--a difference no longer.  And so Mary goes and becomes the first person to proclaim the Gospel. 

Reading John 20:1-18 I am left wondering—how do we recognize the resurrection?  How do we move with Mary from the emptiness of disappointment to the beautiful realization of a new reality?  Much of it is surely a matter of waiting, of sitting by the empty tomb until we recognize why it is empty.  This could mean accepting our humiliations, our limits, the sorrows that haunt us that we cannot solve.  And then, when we hear our name called we must follow Mary’s response—“Rabbouni!” Teacher!  In that response our relationship is restored—we become once again students learning how to be human from the Master who made us, the new Adam who rose after the rest of one Sabbath and walked in the morning garden as God had walked in Eden. 

1 comment:

Susan Adams said...

Beautifully imagined and written, Ragan!
Yesterday at Englewood, in addition to all our old favorite Easter hymns, we added "Morning Has Broken" to our collection. Its simply declaration and imagery nearly brougth me to tears (something singers know is not a good idea!) and I cannot think how we neglected to choose it for Easter before. Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden, sprung in completeness where His feet pass.