Date: Easter Sunday, 2017
Title: “Why Are You Weeping?”
Preaching: The Rev . Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: John 20:1-18
I was out walking with my dog yesterday afternoon when I got to wondering just how many times I have preached an Easter sermon. So, I counted it all up…34 years of active ministry, minus the eight years of exile when I was a District Superintendent, and it turns out that this is my 26th Easter sermon! Twenty-six years…what more could there possibly be to say?!
Well, as if often the case, my daughter Sarah helped me out. When I asked this re-connected, re-committed young adult Christ what I should preach on Easter, she said “One word, Mom…I’ll give you just one word.” And that word was “resurrectionary”.
“Resurrectionary”… I like that made-up word, because Easter can be revolutionary, with the power to turn things, and to turn us on our heads. Easter is a story and a moment with the power to transform even the most cautious, conservation and careful ones among us. Easter can turn us all into “resurrectionaries” if we let it. So why are you weeping?
Of all the things the angels – or for that matter, Jesus – could have said to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb on the first Easter morning, “why are you weeping?” seems rather anti-climactic. It feels a bit mundane at best, and obtuse at worst. “Why are you weeping?” seems to me to be missing the point of the moment, because resurrection (or, if you prefer, resurrectionary) is the word of the day and wonder is the sentiment of the moment.
Yesterday I heard someone joking about the sermon title, saying perhaps Mary was weeping because she just got a call from her accountant, telling her how much she has to pay the Internal Revenue Service this week! But of course that is not it. There is good reason for Mary, and maybe even for us, to weep on Easter morning. Resurrection is the word of the day and wonder is the sentiment of the moment.
Yet even as we are surrounded by flowers, moved by music and thrilled by the celebration, our joy is not so far removed from our fear. Our lives are tinted by both joy and fear. We experience joy at the privilege of parenting, coupled with our fear for the safety of our children. We find joy in meaningful work and colleagues with whom to share it, yet we fear that jobs might end and that teams will change. Friends give us joy in the richness and depth they add to our lives, even while we fear for those same friends when they struggle with illness or grief. There is great joy in this holy day which does not diminish the fear we feel in uncertain days to come. We are joyful in following Jesus, yet fearful for the enormity of the work he gives us to do. Alyce McKenzie put it this way:
We are so often lost in our fear. We get lost in our habit of expecting failure and sorrow, even when we have been promised joy. We wake up every morning and head for the tomb, looking for a corpse. We walk through a valley of the shadow of death that is darker than it needs to be because we’ve closed the blinds and unscrewed the lightbulbs in the hall.
So Jesus meets us this morning and asks Why are you weeping? Perhaps we weep because Easter is a mystery, in a world which favors certainty. It is a human tendency to long for certainty, especially in the face of mystery. Hollywood put that longing onto the silver screen a few years ago in the film Pleasantville. The plot of the movie involved two teenagers who mysteriously get transported from their normal, everyday lives into the world of a 1950s sitcom called “Pleasantville”. In the black and white world of Pleasantville there are no surprises. Everything is certain, everything is prescribed, and nothing ever changes.
At first glance Bud, the teenaged hero of the story, thinks he finally has it made. He loves Pleasantville: he’s on a winning basketball team, he can’t help but get the girl, and the world appears to be his oyster. But as the story plays out, Bud begins to understand the limitations of such a life. Somehow he lets it slip that he’s not from there, so his friends begin to ask him about the wider world. “What’s it like outside Pleasantville”, they ask. And Bud replies, “It’s louder, it’s scarier, and it’s a lot more dangerous.”
What Bud doesn’t say is what you and I certainly know – that the world outside Pleasantville may be louder, scarier, and a lot more dangerous, but it is also a lot more REAL. When Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb, and brings Peter and the other disciple back to confirm what she has seen, she could have immediately left again, just like the men. But instead, Mary remains at the tomb long enough to encounter not only the angels, but the risen Christ himself. And when Jesus calls her by name, it is like Mary breaks out of her prescribed reality and moves from a black and white, flat dimension into a world of color and a depth of wonder.
Mary may find out that this new world is louder. It will undoubtedly seem scarier, and perhaps even a lot more dangerous. But the thing is, a resurrection world – an Easter world – is also a lot more real!
You may have heard the story of Winston Churchill’s funeral service, which he planned himself, right down to the tiniest details. At the end of the service, a single trumpeter stood at the west end of St. Paul’s Abbey and sounded “Taps”, the song that signals dusk and the close of another day. Then, after a moment of silence following the last plaintive note of Taps, another trumpeter stood at the east end of St. Paul’s and began to play “Reveille”, the song of the morning and the call to a new day. You see Churchill understood what Mary Magdalene also knew – that God is all about new life and never ending possibility, and that each of us can be resurrectionaries if we try. Easter may not take away the hard times. The world will still be loud and scary and at times even dangerous. But Easter gives us the courage to live a real life, a full life, a colorful, deep, and multi-dimensional life.
So the plot thickens as the people of Pleasantville awaken. At the end of the movie, Bud finds himself in court, accused of using illegal colors to paint a picture of possibility. As he mounts his defense, he goes first to his father and later to the judge, who is also his chief accuser, and he tells them that all the people who have begun to change from black and white into color are no different than they were before. Bud says, “They just happen to see something inside themselves.” He tells his father that he may be missing more than just his wife’s cooking or cleaning, telling him “Maybe it’s like there’s a whole piece of you that’s missing.” When the judge objects and says Bud should “Stop this at once!”, Bud replies “You can’t stop it at once because it is inside you and you can’t stop something inside you.”
My friends, Easter is inside you. The power of God’s transformation is in each and every one of us, if we will only have the courage to look for it, if we will only stop weeping long enough to embrace the mutli-dimensional, colorful life which God offers. It is a life grounded in God’s love, a life which might look something like the video experiment done recently in a city not too far removed from here. It seems that folks took the “walk” sign on a busy city street and replaced it with a sign that said “dance”. Then, when the lights changed, they piped music into the street and filmed as unsuspecting pedestrians began to do as the sign suggested and danced their way across the intersection.
It’s Easter this morning, so why walk when we can dance! We are resurrectionaries, one and all, so let’s leave the weeping for another day. Thanks be to God! Amen.