Three times tonight we hear of Mary weeping. First, she weeps alone, horribly alone, just outside the tomb, as she tries to comprehend the news that even the body of Jesus had been taken from her. Then the angels ask her, “Why are you weeping?” And finally, Jesus himself asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Most of the time in Scripture, when angels appear people fall down in terror. Most of the time the first thing they say is, “Do not be afraid.” They say that because, in generally, angels in scripture are terrifying. They are the pure, holy warriors and heralds of God. If these are those kind of angels, Mary is so overcome by grief that she doesn’t even notice that these terrifying beings of pure holiness. “They have taken away my Lord,” she says, “and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Think of how much that sentence says about Mary and her power. Her Lord has already died. The one who had cast seven demons out of her, the one who had raised Lazarus from the dead—he had been killed. But if he was dead and buried, at least she could have tended his remains and found some peace in remembering him. But they—whoever they are—have taken even that comfort away. There is no hope for her now. She can’t even mourn his remains. She is completely adrift. There is nothing for her to do. She is powerless and she is overcome.
It seems that when we are overcome by emotion, it is because something has injured the ties we have to this world. We are overcome because of something our parents or our children do for us that make us feel completely and utterly loved. We are overcome because death takes our parents, our children, our spouses. We are overcome because we can no longer bear to shut our eyes to injustice. We are overcome because we lose everything we have—our property, our reputation. We are overcome when we see something so beautiful our soul melts into tears. And we are overcome because one of the ties we have in this world is the tie to the one who made the world, who tied himself completely to the world in Christ, and who has tied himself to us, and that is a tie beyond all telling, but not beyond feeling. Mary knows how that feels, to be fully known and loved by God, and now she feels her tie to God cut. That is why she weeps. She weeps because she cannot imagine that her overcoming itself could be overcome.
Tonight we have heard stories of the ways God has overcome the world. The exodus from Egypt, the Fiery Furnace, Jonah’s change of heart in the whale, turning the stony hearts of humanity into hearts of flesh. These are incredible stories—in fact, if you took a poll, most people don’t believe them. But they are our stories, nonetheless. Somehow we are all attached to them—somehow they reach through history to touch us. But for me, tonight, nothing is more touching than this tender moment in the garden, when Mary turns from the angels and Jesus asks her: Woman, why are you weeping? And it’s like she has to keep explaining to these dumb men why she weeps—and she pleads with Jesus to at least tell her where they took the body so she can just get on with burial rituals and get on with whatever is left of her life. And all Jesus says is ‘Mary.’ Her name. When Jesus says her name, all that has overcome her has been overcome.
Mary. When she hears her name, she knows something has overcome death and despair. Simply by saying her name, Jesus tells her that he loves from the other side of death. He tells her his love overcomes even death. Sometimes a single word says more than treatise. Mary. And then, by telling her not to hold on to him, he gives her control back. No longer is she helpless, but instead she has a purpose, to tell others that she has seen the Lord. She is the first witness to the resurrection, the first preacher of the good news, the first apostle. She is the first to say, my overcoming has been overcome by Christ.
We celebrate Baptism tonight. Wayfarers, we celebrate your baptism. It is a symbol made of the same stuff as tears. It is also symbol of overcoming. Do you not know that in baptism you were buried into a death like Christ’s? And if you have been buried in a death like his, surely you will rise in a resurrection like his. Each of you heard your name. Jesus knows your name and speaks it to you. All your overcoming has been overcome.
And this is why it’s Easter. Do you not know that your life is now with Christ? It is. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack