ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYERIAN CHURCH APRIL 1, 2018, RESURRECTION SUNDAY!
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
NO MORE TEARS
Revelation 21: 1 – 7; John 20:1 – 18
When I was a little kid, I used to sit in the bathtub with a facecloth over my eyes while my mom washed my hair. The facecloth was a feeble attempt to keep the shampoo out of my eyes because when it got in, as it always did, it stung like crazy. Not only did it make my eyes water, but I’d often end up in tears as I fought to escape my mother’s determined grasp. Then one day she came home with a new shampoo with the wonderful name “No more tears.” It was the best stuff ever.
We all cry. Tears are a human reflex. Tears are so much a part of our earthly experience, it’s been said that we live on “a weeping planet”. We enter the world with tears. Crying is the first sign of life. As we mature, what we cry over changes, but our tears keep coming. Life inflicts many wounds and we cry for many reasons. When overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, worry or fear, tears are a welcome relief valve. We cry when we see someone we love suffering. We howl when we feel angry and powerless. We weep when we feel pain. We blubber when overcome with self-pity. Sobbing comes easily when we are filled with regret and remorse. Tears are shed as we’re gripped by grief, loss and disappointment. Sometimes we cry because we’re touched by a small glimmer of hope and goodness in a world where evil abounds. When Terry and I are watching TV and I start to feel choked up, I’ll ask him, “Are you crying yet?” And the two of us, sit there with tears welling up in our eyes. It seems silly on one level because what we’re watching isn’t real; I once caught myself crying over a Disney movie and thought, “I’m crying over cartoon people”. What’s real though is the poignancy in that moment where my grief for our lost and broken world is touched by a spark of “light shining in the darkness” (John 1: 5). When people face the darkest times, we are flooded with feelings of despair and abandonment. We cry because we can’t find God. We cry because we’re cut off from God. We cry because we long to see God face to face. We are “strangers in a strange land”. C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Humans are marked and united by our tears. So much so, that even Jesus cried. He cried over the death of his dear friend Lazarus, and at the grief of Lazarus’ sisters (John 11:35). His lamentation for the people of Jerusalem was so great he wept for them (Luke 19:41). He grieved with anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion (Matthew 26: 38). Jesus understands our sorrow and our tears. He weeps with us. There’s a certain comfort in knowing we’re not alone in our grief.
Throughout history, in every corner of the globe the story has been lived and relived all too often. There’s a knock at the door and a person in military dress tells a mother and father their child is missing in action and presumed dead. A shell exploded and all they found were their son’s dog tags. The world stops as the grief sets in; their son is missing and he’s never coming home. How does one resolve a grief so deep, especially when there isn’t a body to see and touch and hold?
It was a grief of that intensity which accosted Mary Magdalene when she went out at dawn to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, only to discover there was no body. As she peaked into the empty tomb, the world reeled. The shock couldn’t have been greater if she’d been hit by a stun gun. In one brief second, nothing made sense. His body had been there only 3 days ago. A rock had covered the entrance, for pity’s sake. Overcome with disbelief she ran back to tell the disciples. They too found the tomb was empty. They also saw the folded grave clothes. So, it wasn’t a dream. She didn’t have the wrong crypt. If someone was toying with them, it was a very cruel joke. Jesus was gone. As the reality seeped in, she realized her teacher, friend and deliverer was gone. He’d been the first person to treat her with dignity. Instead of using her as a whore or shunning her for being mad, he had seen her – really seen her. He had lifted her up, defended her and set her free from the demons that haunted and taunted her soul. How does one resolve a grief so deep, especially when there isn’t a body to see and touch and hold? Mary withdrew to a quite corner of the cemetery and sobbed as the pent-up pain of her spirit poured out. She sank deeper into despair. Tears were all she had, so she wept with abandon.
As Mary sat in the graveyard howling like her soul was being torn from her body, a man appeared. With tender compassion and a little perplexity, he said to her, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” (John 20:15) He was, in fact, Jesus but she didn’t recognize him. She thought he was the groundskeeper. It occurred to her that he may have moved Jesus’ body. He might know where it was hidden, so she begged him to tell her.
Its always a mystery to us that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus. We need to remember that Mary was certain Jesus was dead. He’d been crucified less than 36 hours ago. Having witnessed Jesus’ death, she had no reason to doubt it. Her world view and therefore her expectations, were set. Her mind was clouded with grief. She was looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place – for the living among the dead. The risen Christ was right before her eyes, standing in her presence but she didn’t see him, couldn’t see him. Because her sight was blurred by her tears she was ready to accept a future that was not so bright or whole or happy as the one she’d had a week before when Jesus walked the earth.
Like Mary at that moment in time many people know the man, Jesus; the historical Jesus, the teacher and healer Jesus, even the crucified Jesus. But this doesn’t soothe their pain, and because they have nothing to stop the tears, no hope to dry their eyes, they weep. Their future is dull and broken and sad and they are prepared to accept it because they have no reason to believe it can be different. John Wesley referred to these people as “The Almost Christians”. For them Christ is not a present, living reality but a past, dead man – a good man perhaps, but dead just the same. Death brings grief and tears, not joy and laughter. But Jesus is no longer dead, he’s as alive as you or I. No wonder he didn’t understand why Mary was crying or what she was looking for; he knew the answer to both those questions was standing right in front of her! When the lights came on because she recognized Jesus’ voice and she turned to face him, do you know what happened? She stopped crying! She sniffled a bit, dried her eyes and fell at his feet in a moment so glorious no words can capture it. The closest we can come to relating to Mary is to recall the parents who believe their son was killed in battle, suffering the endless grief of never holding him again and striving to accept the unacceptable. Then the phone rings one day and a familiar voice says, “Mom, it’s me. I’m alive. I was taken captive but I’m home.” Their son is brought back into their lives, in the flesh, face to face, and the tears dry up. Grief is replaced with boundless joy. It was something like that for Mary. The one she loved and grieved was back, in the flesh. There were no more tears because dying and sorrow and the grave were put behind her when she came face to face with the risen Christ. His presence wiped away her tears.
Do you remember getting hurt as a child? The tears began to flow and what did you do? You ran into the house to find your Mom. And when you saw her you had hope because you knew she was going to bandage your knee or soothe your wounded soul, and when she was done doing that she’d look at you with utter love, take a finger and wipe away your tears.
Right now, we live in an in between time. The wounds of this earthly plain still touch us. There are still many tears. But we have hope. St. Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8: 18) What is that glory? The book of Revelation describes a time when our veil of tears will be torn away, and we’ll see God face to face. A time when God will once again live among us. A time when we will belong fully, completely, permanently to God and he to us. A time when God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes. “Death will be gone for good —tears? Gone; Crying? Gone; Pain? Gone. All the painful things of this life will be gone.” (Revelation 21: 4). No more fear, worry, anxiety, suffering, anger, pain, or self-pity. All of them – gone. No more regret, remorse, grief, loss, disappointment, darkness, despair or abandonment. All of them – gone. Because we will no longer be cut off from God. We will live in his eternal presence, face-to-face, safe and loved. Christ’s resurrection makes that possible. The risen Jesus is the first sign of our new life. What awaits us is a glory “infinitely more than anything we could ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Until then, the risen Jesus has ways of showing up and making himself known to us. Sometimes he amazes us in a very personal and mystical way; often he is present in the love of the people around us; sometimes he’s there in someone who is struggling and lamenting the harshness of this world. The one place we always meet him is at his table. He invites us there today. We come to him with our burdens and our tears, and he wipes them away and gives us hope, because as we remember the sorrow of his suffering and death, it brings us to the place where he is alive and present. There we’re given a glimpse of his coming kingdom where we will see all things are new because of him.