Why Are You Weeping?

April 09, 2023
John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen indeed.

Here we are. It’s Easter; we made it through lent – and our journey with questions is not over. In our story today, our sacred story, the angels and Jesus ask Mary a question, the same question. “Why are you weeping?”

Mary has reason to weep. Jesus is gone. Jesus was her friend, her rescuer, her liberator. Mary watched as this man, this healer/teacher/rabbi, was treated like a criminal, was tortured and died in agony alongside thieves and revolutionaries. She weeps out of faithfulness to her friendship with Jesus. She weeps out of the grief and trauma she experienced as she watched Jesus’ own trauma. She weeps out of fear now that Jesus’ body has disappeared.

We too have reasons to weep. Some of us weep in grief because a dear loved one has died. Some of us weep because we live with the frustration of chronic illness, or addiction. Some of us weep because we are still trying to find our way after the months and years of isolation due to the pandemic. Some of us weep because our work is not a great fit or because we don’t have work or because we work too much.

Some of us weep because the earth weeps, is in danger. We weep because we are in touch with the reality of the climate crisis and our role as humans and it overwhelms us. Some of us weep because of injustices in the world: white supremacy, the criminal legal system, the rise of Christian nationalism, gun violence, dangerous laws against trans and queer people and women, ongoing war in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine, gang violence in this country and other countries.

The list goes on and on. How can we not weep?

Well, we might be like the other disciples who are so busy trying to understand what is going on, that they don’t have time to weep. Initially, Mary runs to tell the disciples that Jesus’ body is missing. Then Peter and “the other disciple” race each other to get to the tomb. Are they so busy running and competing to arrive first, that for a while they forget their terror and fear, their sadness set aside by distraction?

When the other disciples hurry back home to tell people that indeed, Jesus’ body is gone, Mary stays put, weeping. She peeks into the tomb to make sure she hasn’t been seeing things and then she does see things. She sees two angels who ask, “Why are you weeping?” And as she explains her grief, she hears a sound. She turns around and curiously she sees another person who asks the same question: “Why are you weeping?”

Why are we weeping? Because we see the pain, we feel the pain. Because we are confronting life as it is and yet long for something more.

The questions we have been asking the past six weeks illustrate some of the pain, some of the longing. We are – children, youth and adults – all asking questions of ourselves and each other and God.

Some of our questions on the wonder wall are personal:

  • Why am I struggling to be me?
  • What living water do I have to offer?
  • Does God want me to become a better person or am I good enough the way I am?

Some of our questions are existential:

  • Why are we here?
  • Are we alone in the universe?
  • Why does God allow such suffering?

Some of our questions are practical:

  • Why does Pilate free a prisoner on the festival?
  • When are we doing communion again?
  • How high has the offering gotten?

Many of our questions are profound:

  • Is it really never too late to be born again?
  • Is God like me and my color?
  • Can God shape shift?
  • How is a Spirit born?
  • How can I gather up courage and ask for embodiment?

These questions are welcome in this faith community. They are not a distraction. They do not represent failure. These questions are a sign of life.

(sing) How can our questions give life, questions give life?

Our questions give life by giving voice to our longings, by initiating conversation. Our questions give life by encouraging relationship with The Holy and with each other. When we started Lent, the labyrinth was just plain black, looking like a tree or a woman or a thumbprint. Each week the questions we wrote down appeared, as leaves, on our labyrinth/tree. Our wonderings are signs of life and bring life. Our questions are signs of creativity and growth. We can see that questions do not mean lack of faith or the death of faith. Look how the tree/labyrinth is growing and changing. Behold the beauty of faith.

On this day when we affirm our faith and say Christ in Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed, our questions are not finished. We only add to the list.

  • What does it mean for life to be stronger than death when we still see pain and death all around us?
  • How could a rock, a giant boulder, be rolled away?
  • How does a body disappear?
  • We might wonder how Peter and the other disciple believe without seeing, and what was it that they believed?
  • We might wonder what the voice of an angel sounds like when it asks “Why are you weeping?”
  • We might wonder why Mary, at first, didn’t recognize her good friend Jesus. And why does Jesus say Mary should not touch him?
  • And for goodness sake, why, if Jesus sent Mary – and none of the men – to tell the good news of his resurrection, why do so many followers of Christ today think that female bodies can’t or shouldn’t preach?

Here we are, celebrating new life, and all it is is more questions. Questions about the story, questions about what it meant then, questions about what it means now. Do we have the right answers or do we have it all wrong?

As we have been asking questions this season, we have been offering our money to Life After Release, a local group that also asks questions. LAR and Court Watch ask: where is the justice in a system that makes its court rooms inaccessible to families and supporters? How can people pay bail when they are in jail and can’t work? Why is bail set at levels that are often impossible for poor people to meet? How can there be such wide discrepancy between judges all enforcing the same laws? Why is a system that is called the “justice system” so rife with injustice?

Some people might call these questions erroneous, disrespectful, even ridiculous. These are questions that make some people angry. They are also questions, that when asked and pursued, can give life.

How can our questions give life, questions give life?

LAR asks questions that might lead to better life for people who are living on the edge, for people who crash into the criminal legal system and are in danger of losing their children and homes and families. These questions can give life when we ask them alongside the women of LAR. These questions can give new meaning and new life when we remember that Jesus, our brother and liberator, was himself tried unjustly. Through LAR, through asking questions, we have a chance to speak out for Jesus, for the Jesus in our neighbors, for our loved ones.

How can our questions give life, questions give life?

We do not always have quick or easy answers to personal questions, existential questions, profound questions, even practical questions. When we are dealing with faith and law, sometimes the answers are not very clear. Laws are often written in confusing ways. Even the “laws” of faith can be confusing, just ask Jesus, just ask the gospel writers. Ask anyone who reads the bible.

During those times when the questions are overwhelming, when they are existential and personal, practical and profound, it might help to remember what the young poet Rainier Maria Rilke wrote, to an even younger poet, a hundred and twenty years ago.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Live the questions. Don’t just lean in. Live the questions. It is a hard teaching. When will it be that distant day that we live into the answer? Are we there yet? We don’t know the time. What we do know, what I have seen over the years, is that living the questions can bear fruit, can give life, especially when we live the questions together, connected to each other, connected to the Living Christ. As a congregation we weep together, we worship and work together, we also live the questions together. As we live the questions together, we strengthen each other, we deepen our faith and we encounter the Risen One.

On this day we celebrate that life is stronger than death, that a tiny seed buried in the ground can grow into food for many. We celebrate that the whisper of an idea, a question of faith, an act of imagination, can grow into a movement, maybe even systemic change. We celebrate that the questions we ask together radiate into the world, bringing New Hope and New Life. Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed.