(In Lent, we studies Christ’s last words from the cross. This morning, the first recorded words, Easter Words)
Dear Friends in Christ,
Logic vs. emotion A few years ago, Debi and I were having a bit of an argument, nothing really serious, but in retrospect, it seems as though we were speaking two different languages. Not English vs. Spanish nor German vs. French, but rather the languages of logic vs. emotion. I was using the widely accepted rules of logic, and if my memory serves me correctly, she was pretty much dead wrong and I was right. At a certain point, she began to cry. Which I felt was unfair of her to do. I asked her why she was crying. She said “it’s just sad.” I asked her what was sad. She answered, “it’s just really sad.” I asked her again what was so sad. She answered, “it’s just really sad that you don’t even know what I need.” At which time a little bit of emotion started to creep up inside of me, I said, “If I knew what you needed, I would give it to you. What do you need me to do, sweetheart? “A hug.” I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that 10 minutes ago, and we could have avoided all these tears!”
Every family is unique, it seems to me, in terms of on the one hand, letting their tears flow in a regular kind of a way or on the other hand avoiding them at all cost. Some folks cry when they are angry, some when they are sad, some when they are happy, still others when they afraid, still others all of the above, and a few none of the above. Some of us prefer to use the language of logic at all times, others regularly flood with emotion, and the rest of us are somewhere in between. In the original language of our text, the Greek word for crying shows up four times. And so our focus is on the question first asked by the two angels, and secondly by Jesus Himself, “Why Are You Crying? That is our sermon theme, with two parts. Part 1 is to learn again that the way through your tears is always near, and part 2 is that Easter tears are the best kind of tears.
1. The way through your tears is always (near). Whether your tears rise up inside of you out of anger or sadness or hopelessness or nervousness or a combination of two or more, Jesus Christ is the way through every bit of it. He is the way, the truth, the life….In this place, we have always believed and we believe it this morning that the resurrection of our Savior proves everything that needs to be proved. The resurrection of Christ proves that Jesus is Who He said He is, Son of God, Lord of lords, king of kings. It proves that our sins have been forgiven, it proves our spiritual debts have been cancelled, and it proves that our names are written in the book of heaven. It proves the Father has accepted the sacrifice offered by His Son at the cross, and that every word of Holy Scripture is true. In this place, we believe that because Jesus Christ rose up from the grave on the third day, so also shall every believing and baptized person in every generation rise up from their grave on the Last Day. There are still all kinds of reasons to cry here and now, but as often as our tears are directed to our Good Shepherd, that often He takes us by the hand, holds on tight, and leads us through. Four real life examples of how He does exactly that.
Story #1 is the story of Jesus and Mary. Of how in 50 words or less, (40 Greek words to be exact) Jesus leads Mary out of her (distress). Mary Magdalene is one of at least five different women named Mary in the New Testament. We don’t know too much about her, but we do know she came from the village of Magdala on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We know that before she met Jesus she was totally enslaved by demonic powers. How she got into this sad condition the Bible doesn’t say, and it really doesn’t do any good to speculate. But we may be certain that if one demon is terrible, seven demons must be seven times terrible. We know that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, she stood nearby with Mary his mother. When they took his body down from the cross, she watched the whole bloody mess. Matthew tells us that when Joseph of Arimithea wrapped the body in linen, laid it in a tomb, and rolled the heavy stone in place, Mary Magdalene and another Mary were sitting nearby and watching. We know that on Saturday evening, she purchased all kinds of spices hoping to anoint the body and that early on Sunday morning, before the sun came up, she and other women ventured through the darkness, expecting to finish the process.
By the time, the women arrived, Jesus had already risen. Already there had been an earthquake, the seal was broken, the stone rolled away by angels, and Christ had come out of the tomb. Already the soldiers had been knocked unconscious, woke up, and ran away in fear. Already the women had found the tomb empty, the anels had told them that Christ had risen from the dead, already they had told the disciples the good news, already the disciples thought they were talking nonsense, already John and Peter had investigated, already at least two disciples were believing in the resurrection. At that point Mary Magdalene came back. In this moment, she’s a mess. She’s afraid, she’s upset, she’s in shock, her whole system is shutting down. Her brain is having a hard time thinking, her heart is having a hard time breathing, and so does what she feels most like doing. She cries like she’s never cried before.
The angels ask her why she is crying, she answers they have taken away her Lord and she doesn’t know where they put him. Jesus appears, His first two words of Easter are questions. Why are you crying? He adds another, “Who is it you are looking for?” She thinks he is the gardener, she pleads with him to tell her where is the body, Jesus calls her by name, “Mary”. Mary just wants to hold onto him and never let go, Jesus says don’t do that, he needs to ascend to his father, she has good news to tell. She just wants to be safe and for the good old days to be back again, but Jesus gently leads her out of distress and reminds her that a new day has dawned. Lesson #1 today, The way through your tears is always near.
Story #2 is the story of Ida and me. A story of how in ten words or less, a neighbor sets a pastor (straight). Story of Ida our next door neighbor back in Lewiston, in her 40’s maybe early 50’s, dying of cancer. Her husband Marlo indicates that if I want to say goodbye to Ida, I should come over. I went over, and after a little bit of small talk, I asked her if I could read Scripture and pray with her and she agreed. As I started to read, I began to cry, and she said, “Pastor Griffin, why are you crying?” I choked out the answer, “because you’re dying.” She scolded me for crying, she comforted me by saying she was going to be with Jesus soon in heaven, she insisted that I eat some cookies and drink some coffee. And so it happened that in ten words of less, with words proven true by the resurrection of her Lord, Ida set me straight, yes she did.
Story #3 is a story of my mom and me. A story of how in three, maybe four words, she sent away (tears) It was about this time of year three years ago, and I’m sitting by my mom’s bedside in Rosewood Memory Care Unit on Broadway Ave. in Fargo, ND. A combination of old age, parkinsons disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, and dementia have worn her down. She’s in hospice care, and on this particular day, I showed up with intentions of comforting her and being with her. We have all kinds of conversations, all kinds of Bible readings, all kinds of prayer, one last time she has received her Lord’s Supper. In late afternoon, she is sleeping, and I’m just sitting there holding her hand, thinking back to days gone by where she took care of me, she prayed for me, she fed me, she cleaned up after me, and not surprisingly at all to any of you who know me well, I started to cry. She opened her eyes, she said to me, “you’re crying.” I said, “yes, mom I’m crying.” She asked why. I said because you’re dying. She said, “I’ll be fine.” In three words, with words proven true by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, mom simply pointed me towards the promises of resurrection, she sent away my tears, yes she did.
Story #4 is the story of a pastor who after 30 years of ministry you would think of good questions to ask a dying man..With one word, an old German Lutheran gets it (right) This story took place right here in the Janesville Nursing Home. One of the patriarchs of our Trinity Lutheran congregation was in his dying days (perhaps his dying hours), the family asked me to visit, and I did. His body was frail and tired, his bones were aching and his strength had gone away. I came near, he looked me in the eyes, and I said what I say20-30 times on average every day to healthy people, “Luke, how are you doing today?” He said in his Luke sort of a way, “ok.” With one word, a word proven true by the resurrection of Christ, old and frail and German and Lutheran Luke got it right, yes he did.
Luke was one of those good old men of the faith who was not famous at all for crying. And maybe you’re one of those people that would rather do just about anything other than let other people see you cry. And that’s fine. To each his own. But if ever you were going to shed a few tears, if ever you were going to let your emotions get the best of you, if ever there was going to be a day where you were swept off your feet by the Good and Certain news of Christianity, today would be the day. Which leads us to our second and final and briefer than the first less I invite you to learn today. (Easter) tears are the best kind. I say that for three reasons that parallel the three questions we urge you to ask before you step forward for your Lord’s Supper today. 1) Am I sorry for my sins? 2) Do I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior? 3) Do I promise to amend my sinful life?
Easter tears are tears of (regret) For Mary Magdalene, she no doubt regretted the ugly chapters of life she had traveled through, she regretted the bad habits she had fallen into, she regretted the opportunities she had missed to show love to her Savior. This morning, I invite not to cry over spilled milk, not to cry over that which you cannot control in life, but rather to cry tears of contrition over the ugly chapters of life you’ve already traveled through, to cry tears of repentance over the bad habits you have fallen into, to cry out for mercy for the opportunities to serve which you have been missing.
Easter tears are tears of (faith) Of Mary Magdalene, we can say she saw she believed, with joy in her heart and by the Holy Spirit she confessed that Jesus was Lord. Let it be said of us, in this very place, that we have seen, that we believe, and that we know where to go with our tears.
Easter tears are tears of (determination) Of Mary Magdalene, we can say that she went from a mourner to a missionary in short order. She went from a woman wondering what happened to one resolved to tell people exactly what happened. She went from a woman sobbing so hard she thought she was going to die to a woman determined to live and move and have her being in Jesus.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who have all kinds of reasons to cry, but they know exactly where to go with all of those tears. Some days their emotions are all over the map, but as often as they hear the Easter bells ringing, as often as they pay attention to what their Good Shepherd is promising, that often they find themselves looking forward to that place where all their tears will be wiped away. Amen.