Sunday, April 24, 2011

Woman, Why Weepest Thou?

The pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning found Mary Magdalene and other women at the tomb of Jesus, discovering the stone rolled away and the angels proclaiming the strange news: "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Matt. 28:6).  Peter and John, soon summoned, saw only the empty graveclothes and the empty tomb.  The disciples scattered, unsure of what to think.  But John tells us that "Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping" (John 20:11).  For her, the angelic visitation was not enough to stanch her tears.  Still she stood, keeping heartbroken vigil outside the tomb of the one she called Master, the one who had been so cruelly taken from her days before, the one whose body had now gone missing.  Where was He?  Who had taken Him?  Why had they stolen His body?   And what would become of her, now that her Messiah was gone?  A thousand questions filled her heart.

In the faint light, she saw a figure by the tomb.  It was the gardener, she supposed--and why should she not?  This was the beginning of the work day, after all, and she was in a garden.  His voice called to her, "Woman, why are you crying?  Whom are you seeking?" (John 20:15).

Just like that.  No prelude, no words of comfort--just another question to add to the many others that haunted her.  "Why are you crying?"  This question she had already answered: "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him" (v. 13).  "Whom are you looking for?"  Ah, there was the clincher.  John recorded Jesus' words as an echo of His question to the disciples who followed Him at the beginning of His ministry: "What seek ye?" (John 1:38).  Jesus had promised them then that "thou shalt see greater things than these" (v. 50), and He was about to make good on His promise.

But first, the question that hung in the air.  It was a strange thing for Christ to lead off with, really.  Why another question?  Why this question?  Who was Mary looking for?

She was looking for her Lord--well, for the body of her Lord--to perform for Him the last act of dedicated service that one can perform for a beloved friend.  She was there with spices, to anoint His body and to bury it.  Mary was seeking a corpse.  And she could look forever and not find it, for Christ was risen.  And so His question, seemingly so out of place, re-framed her quest, and prepared her to understand the glorious fact of His resurrection.  And when at last Jesus called her by name, and she understood who He was, Mary could not be restrained from clinging to Him, her rapturous joy quickly overcoming any pretense of propriety.  For here He was, Christ in the flesh again--not the lifeless body she had been seeking, but the glorified and risen Lord.

I wonder how many times we make the same mistake that Mary did, how often we fail to see God's work because our eyes are clouded by tears or by the darkness that comes before dawn, how readily we overlook the miraculous beauty of God's love because we are looking for something else, something far less majestic than what God is offering us.  (I know I've done it.)  How often does Christ stand near us, and we overlook Him?  How often does He call to us, and we hear only the mundane voice of a gardener?

Perhaps we should ask ourselves the same question--What are we seeking?

And when God offers us far more than what we sought, will we recognize the voice of the Lord when He calls us by name, and follow the example of Mary, who "turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master" (John 20:16)?  Will we allow God to turn our tears of grief into tears of joy?  Will we cling to Him and worship Him, or will we cling to the grief of disappointed hope and dashed dreams?  Will we be transformed and comforted by resurrecting love, or will we ever remain standing outside the sepulchre, weeping?

Whom are we seeking?  Why are we crying?  What are we overlooking?

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