April 09, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
So what would you say is your biggest tear-jerker movie? There are just certain movies, and they aren’t the same for everyone, that are big tear jerkers for us. You watch them again and again and you still cry at the same scenes. Let’s see if any of these famous tear-jerker movies, were ones for you. Just raise a hand if you cried in these movies:
--Marley and Me. Anyone cry when Marley had to be put down?
--Old Yeller. Who cried when Old Yeller had to be put down?
--Bambi. Who cried when Bambi’s mother died?
--Rudy. Who cried when he finally got accepted to Notre Dame? Or when they carried him off the field at the end?
--How about when Duke lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament this year? Who cried?
--Okay, I won’t even bring up Hoosier or Boilermaker tears? I saw grown men walking out of sports bars with tissues in hand!
So have you ever thought of the Easter story as a tear-jerker? I never did until we looked at the Questions Jesus Asks during Lent. Normally we don’t continue a Lent series to Easter Day, but the first words spoken by the risen Christ in the Gospel of John are a question. He asks, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus says this to Mary, who was first asked this question by angels in the tomb. The story of Easter begins with tears.
This seems contrary to the mood of Easter. Easter is a time for celebration not sadness. But John’s version of Easter reminds us that the path to hope comes through tears. So if we allow Jesus to ask his question of us, Why are you weeping? What would you say?
Have you had a reason to weep in this season of life? Maybe not outward tears. Sometimes our weeping is more inward. But whether physically or emotionally, have you had reason to weep about anything lately?
I know for me this year so far has had a fair amount of grief. There have been several church members who have died that have left me with sense of loss. I feel the loss of a colleague, Linda McCoy, who passed away less than three weeks ago. And, on January 20 my father died. My dad was raised without a father and his mother was a bitter woman. He grew up without much expression of love. But he sought to be a good dad.
In the days following his death, there was a lot to go through and sort out. One evening my sister and I were going through a drawer of old items of interest my dad had. We realized it was his dream drawer—things he dreamed of doing but never did. When I got home, Susan was out of town, so that Friday morning I worked there and wrote my Friday email. I wrote about my dad and his dream drawer, things he gave up in order to be a very present father in my life and my siblings. I wrote: “He had the dream of being a dad he never had.” And when I typed those words I just lost it. Sitting there in the Living Room I just totally fell apart. I put down my computer and just prayed thanking God for my dad’s life.
Have you shed any tears lately? Tears can be cleansing. They can be healing. They help us expose and express emotions that go beyond words. But tears do more than that. They also draw us near to God. As David Wilkerson says, “The touch of God is marked by tears.” Tears sometimes express the soul being touched, God drawing near.
In the ancient middle eastern world people kept what were known as “tear bottles,” vials used to collect one’s tears. Tear bottles were buried with people. They were thought to be sacred. The Psalmist makes reference to these containers: “You have kept count of my tossings, and put my tears in your bottle.” (Psalm 56:8) In other words God is aware of our tears.
In the Garden Jesus met Mary in her tears. Her tears become the avenue to her hope. That’s why I want us to think for a few minutes this morning about Mary’s tears, because they symbolize more than one emotion or felt need. They represent many of the reasons we may come today seeking hope and new possibilities for our lives.
So if Jesus met you on a day when tears came and asked Why are you crying? What might be some reasons? We may say…
I AM CRYING BECAUSE:
I Have Experienced a Deep Loss
Perhaps like Mary you can relate to losing someone you love. Your tears are the loss of that person in your life, and perhaps also an uncertainty about what that loss will mean for the future. But there are lots of ways to experience loss. Maybe your tears are for someone else’s loss, or a divorce you are going through, or a job loss, or change of location and friends. Any loss, any change, brings with it a sense of grief.
But notice where Mary’s tears took place—at the tomb. She didn’t stay home. She wasn’t in bed crying. She was the tomb. Why? The other gospels tell us she had gone there to anoint the body of Jesus, an important religious act of devotion she didn’t have time to perform before his burial.
It’s a good reminder that sometimes we carry out religious acts of devotion not because our heart is in it, not because we are joyful, but just the opposite. We do them anyway out of love and respect, and we never know how Christ might meet us.
A pastor friend in North Carolina tells the story about his wife’s grandmother. She had a tough life. Her husband was a country-singer wannabe who often disappeared with his guitar and best friend, Jack Daniels. He was never much help. She worked in a mill to make enough money to take care of her two sons. The years went by and her older son died of cancer at just 29. Her Southern Baptist theology taught her that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but she wasn’t so sure. This felt like too much. A decade later her second son died. What smile she had left went away along with any joy for living.
Every Sunday she would go to the cemetery in Charlotte to put roses on the graves. She was kneeling on the cold ground one day when suddenly in a way she couldn’t understand or explain, she saw three people in front of her. She immediately recognized her two sons, and the one in the middle was her Lord. They were bright and light filtered around her. As they smiled she felt love wrap around her, and she saw them throwing roses to her.
She never told anyone about that event except her granddaughter, my friend’s wife. She always figured people would think she was crazy. But whatever she experienced it changed her. Her hope and joy returned. She gave herself permission to be happy again. Through her tears she saw that this world is not all there is.
You never know how going through an act of devotion with no expectation of anything to change for you, can be a place where Christ meets us and changes us.
But let’s go back to the Risen Jesus’ question, Why are you crying? Your answer might be, I am crying because…
Things Have to Change
Sometimes our tears come because of things that have to change if we are to ever get to a better place. That was certainly true for Mary. When asked why she was crying she said it was because someone moved the body. For her that was the only explanation for an empty tomb that made sense. She just wanted the body of Jesus returned.
Now think about this. She would have been content with just finding his dead body to anoint. That would have been enough. That would have satisfied her. All she wanted to know was Who moved my Jesus?
Some years ago a popular leadership book was Who Moved My Cheese? It dealt with our resistance to change. The author, Spencer Johnson, made the observation that people will remain in familiar places until something forces them to embrace a new possibility. This is nothing new. In fact, it’s science. Newton’s First Law of Motion says an object rest will remain at rest until compelled to change by an external force. Now, as long as we are talking about objects that’s one thing, but when we talk about people we have to recognize that those external forces are usually things that cause tears. The path that leads to a forced change is often accompanied by tears. A death, a job ending, a move, any number of things. We might not choose them or want them, but they can be the doorway to resurrection. New life. New possibility.
It is at this moment that Jesus calls Mary by name and she realizes who it is. Her tears of sorrow suddenly become tears of joy. But notice what Jesus says next, “Do not cling to me…” What a seemingly cold, indifferent remark. But Jesus is letting her know, this is not the old relationship. Things are different now. Mary couldn’t embrace the new if she clung to the old.
For Mary this played out perhaps in a matter of seconds, but for us, it plays out over months and sometimes years. Yet the truth remains. Embracing new means letting go of something old.
Maybe you believe you have to have a certain job to be happy, or that that job is the one God wants for you, but it doesn’t come. Could God be saying it is time to let go of that? God has something better?
Maybe you are a student believing you have to get into a certain school. You think that is your ticket, but you don’t get it. You’re clinging to it, and its time to let go.
Maybe you’ve been holding on to things in your marriage or family that you feel has to be a certain way, but to get to a new place, a better place, God might be inviting you let go of that.
There can be huge ways we experience this, or they can be small. Several Christmases ago our three girls were home. We did the Christmas morning thing and then everyone went to take naps or facetime with boyfriends. About midafternoon I could tell Susan was getting uptight. Her life-long tradition said “we need to have a formal Christmas dinner.” She set had already set the china days before, food was ready for preparation but she was tired. When she asked us for help no one responded. Finally one of the girls said, “Can we just order Chinese food?” Susan had to breathe in a paper bag about 10 minutes. But, she rallied. In fact, it became a spiritual moment for her. She said, “I paused. I thought about the battle ahead. Then I thought, what is the goal here: fulfilling my expectations or a happy day together? When I let go of my expectation we ended up having a happy rest of the day that could have been ruined by my clinging to what I wanted.
Now again, this is kind of a silly example of this point, but whether big or small we find that when we let go of the things we want, and trust Jesus in the process, that act in itself can be an act of resurrection.
As Mother Teresa’s mother said to her when she began her life as a missionary: “Put your hand in Jesus’ hand and walk alone with Him. Walk ahead because if you look back, you’ll go back.”
And one more thought about Mary’s tears and how they relate to our own. If Jesus asked why are you crying, you might say, I am crying because…
I Feel So Helpless
Think again about Mary’s experience. She watched her Savior die and be buried. Her grief is inconsolable. The one thing that might bring some solace is being able to anoint his body after the Sabbath, but upon arriving at the tomb she finds that even that is taken away. Its just one more thing. And there’s nothing she can do.
Do you ever feel that way? Maybe you face a loss, and that alone is bad enough. But then it seems there is another experience that makes you feel even more overwhelmed. Add to that a tragedy in the news or some other experience of sadness and it starts to become more than you can take. Sometimes are tears come out of pure weariness for the way things are and the fact that we feel so helpless to change any of it.
Two weeks ago after the shooting in Nashville I received an email from Katie Bolduc (Ball-duke) in our church. Katie is fifteen and a freshman at Westfield High School. I remember confirming Katie in the church just two years ago. Anyway, Katie sent me this email to say how the news of Nashville affected her. She wrote:
I don’t usually get all that emotional at the news. My family and I tend to follow it closely, so not much takes me by surprise any more. But for some reason, this one just got me. I was ugly crying, which is something I’m extremely uncomfortable doing, especially around other people…I’m just tired and frustrated and can’t see a way this ends.”
I felt like Katie expressed in this email what a lot of us feel. One grief, one loss that leads to another experience of something wrong happening that gets piled on even more by events in our world that are not the way things should be and it’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed and our tears represent that.
That is where Mary was. Her tears represented her helpless over the life destroying, soul-crushing powers of this world. But she is about to discover something that will change all of that. She is about to discover something that turns her tears of sorrow into ones of joy.
And this is where its important to remember that the Gospels are written about people with Jesus, but they are written for them. They are written for us. They are written for people who know the outcome. We want to hand Mary a tissue and say, “Just hang on. It’s going to be fine.” Or read right past her tears and not pay much attention to them, because we know it will turn out alright.
And this is why I say the Gospels are written for us, because when we find ourselves in Mary’s place, and our tears overwhelm us, it’s easy to forget what we already know. Its easy to forget what we really do believe, that things will turn out right. That wrong will not win. That love will prevail and hope will be the final outcome.
That’s what the Gospels intend to do. That’s why the Easter story is told, so that we get just a glimpse of a world where death is no more, where there will be no more tears. The glimpse doesn’t change current reality. It doesn’t automatically transform the world, but it transforms us.
When that hope is inside of us, it may get covered up at times but it can’t be conquered. When we continue to stay close to our source of hope, keep it fresh inside of us we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.
A pastor named Bruce Thielemann offers a picture of this through a little parable:
Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. And every once in a while, one of the grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface never to return. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought of his takes away all the distress; they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory.