Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (John 20:10-15)
That was on the first Easter, but those two questions still apply to all of us today.
The first: Why are you crying? Brother, sister, uncle, auntie – why are you crying?
And the other question asked of Mary Magdalene: Who is it you are looking for?
Put yourself into Mary Magdalene’s shoes. Go back 2000 years. It has been one, two, three days since that man Jesus – your friend Jesus – was crucified.
You watched as Jesus was brought before his own people, the Jews, and condemned by the elders and the High Priest. Not for telling a lie, but telling the truth. They asked Him, as recorded in Luke 22:67-70 – “If you are the Christ, tell us. Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”
Blasphemy, they cried! You’re lying!
It’s only blasphemy when someone who isn’t the Son of God says he is. But Jesus was crucified for saying He was the Christ, the Messiah, the promised Saviour who would bring hope and salvation to the world.
And you, Mary Magdalene, you believed Him.
You were probably in the crowd when Pilate, the Roman put in charge of Israel, says exactly what you, Mary Magdalene, believe: This man is innocent.
But to your horror, the people in the crowd around you shout, Crucify Him, crucify Him!
And then the real horror began – when the thirst for blood worked itself up into a frenzy. Let the blood be upon us and our children, shouted the Jews. And they made sure they got every drop of blood out of that man Jesus, your friend Jesus.
They had him whipped 39 times. They made Him wear a crown of thorns, and they mocked him, and spat on him, and struck him on the head again and again.
And then the Cross.
Mary Magdalene, it is recorded in Scripture (Matthew 27:56) that you were there when they nailed that man Jesus onto the cross at Calvary. You remember the hammer, driving the nails in, piercing through flesh, then bone, then wood.
Now, at the tomb of Joseph, someone asks you: Why are you crying? And you don’t even know where to start.
And Jesus now was a public spectacle, part of what was seen as an unholy trinity – between two thieves the man who was called the king of the Jews. Robber, royalty, robber.
You watched, when you heard Jesus cry out to God, not as Father, but as Eloi, Eloi (Matt 27:46). My God, My God. Because on that cross, he suffered not as Son of God, but as a man. Body broken, blood pouring out. Separated from the Father.
And Mary, Mary, you heard His last cry. He gave up His spirit. And Jesus, son of man, died.
Now, at the tomb of Joseph, someone asks you: Why are you crying? And you don’t even know where to start. You’ve lost so much.
You have lost all hope. Scripture records in Mark 16:9 that Jesus once drove 7 demons out of you*. This man gave you hope. A fresh start. A clean slate. As he died, so did hope.
You have lost your direction. You remember when Jesus gently rebuked your sister Martha because she was distracted doing all kinds of things for Jesus, but you were focused only on sitting at His feet, listening to Him (Luke 10:38-42). And He appreciated your devotion. Only one thing is needed, He said. But now Jesus is gone – what is your one thing now?
And you have lost your friend. My gut feeling is this is what hurt you the most. When your brother Lazarus died, and Jesus came, you saw Him cry. Jesus wept. But this man, Jesus, whom you called Lord, when He died – you looked around and you saw the multitudes scorning Him, heaping shame and insult upon Him. No one cared about your friend Jesus. No one wept.
And now, outside the tomb, you’re so confused. Where is the body of Jesus, my Lord? What could have happened to Him? And just like Jesus wept for your brother Lazarus outside his tomb, now you weep for Jesus outside His own tomb.
Why are you crying?
I’m now talking to you here, not Mary Magdalene – you.
The funny thing about people in Church is everything looks good. I’m fine, thank you. Everyone is nicely dressed for the Sabbath service. We come together, we smile and say hello. Everyone looks fine. Happy.
But the funny/sad thing I’ve learnt over the years is: Everybody hurts. No matter how it looks on the surface. No matter how we try to put on the brave face. No matter who you are, how old you are, what you do in life – everybody hurts. Everybody cries. Sometimes.
Maybe you’ve lost hope.
I don’t know what your journey in life is, but there are some very common, repeated themes. You think you’re alone in your struggles, but the sad thing is, there are so many people who are fighting the same battle.
Maybe you’re struggling in your studies; you’re barely staying afloat at work. Maybe you’re struggling with an illness – maybe for weeks, months, even years. And every time you think you see a ray of hope, it comes back again, worse than before.
This life, it keeps throwing stuff at us. Sadness and tears, worries and fears, failing careers, the passing of years.
Maybe you’re full of fear. It incapacitates you. It paralyses you. Maybe you’re depressed. Maybe you’ve been depressed for so long you’ve forgotten how it feels to be happy.
Maybe every day when you wake up your heart hurts so bad that you don’t want to go on.
Maybe you’ve lost direction.
Perhaps it’s your career. You’re not doing the job you think you should be doing. It feels like a dead end, a constant grind. You can’t remember why you’re there in the first place. The salary no longer buys you satisfaction.
Or maybe your marriage feels directionless. Aimless. Going nowhere. Once upon a time when you looked at your husband, there were butterflies in your stomach. These days it feels more like caterpillars. You don’t look forward to going home. You’re sure he feels the same.
Maybe your whole life lacks direction. You don’t know where it’s going, and you don’t know how to turn things around. So you wake up, and you go through the routine. Left foot, right foot. But you have no idea where you’re headed.
No wonder you’re crying.
Maybe you’ve lost a friend, or a loved one.
We’ve all lost someone. Sometimes we have time to prepare for it. Maybe they go because of old age. Or the long, slow descent into illness. No matter what, it still hurts.
My mother died on April 3, 2009 – 22 days before I got married. It was a long time coming, a years-long rollercoaster of emotions. She suffered from kidney failure for about a decade. Then the brief and fleeting window of grace when she got a transplant – and the sharp descent when even that transplanted kidney started to fail.
The last 6, 9, 12 months were awful. I went to work in the morning, then went to the hospital every night. Sometimes she was conscious, sometimes she wasn’t. Sometimes there were glimmers of hope, usually there weren’t.
She went 8 years ago, but I think about her every day. Sometimes I’ll cry about it still. Maybe you know the feeling.
I’m thankful I had time to spend with her. We got to say our goodbyes, make our peace, ask for forgiveness. But sometimes they go far too soon, unexpectedly. Before their time, before their prime. Something suddenly breaks, in their body, or in their minds, or in their hearts.
Or maybe you lose a friend or loved one not because they’re gone, but because there was some silly dispute, or some disagreement, or some miscommunication, and they’re no longer in your life. And doors were slammed, or you were blocked on Facebook, or cut out of your social circle. And it hurts. Because you miss them.
Why are you crying? Why do we cry? Because this life, it keeps throwing stuff at us. Sadness and tears, worries and fears, failing careers, the passing of years. Tears seem to be part of the human condition.
But … they don’t have to be.
There is a promise in the Bible. That there will come a time when all things shall pass. When heaven and earth as we know it will pass, and be replaced with a new, perfect, spotless one.
When that happens, when God makes all things new, this is the promise: “I will wipe every tear from your eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4)
Don’t you want that? I do. I can’t wait. I have lived through so many tears. I have seen the death of loved ones, I have mourned, I have gone through seasons where I have cried so much that I ran out of tears. I have lived with pain, the kind of pain that simultaneously makes your heart explode and deflate.
We all have.
But that doesn’t have to be the human condition. That doesn’t have to be the state of our lives. What is the solution? How do we get out of this spiral the life of toil and tears?
The answer is found in that second question Jesus asked of Mary Magdalene: Who are you looking for?
We look for many things, many people, many ways to stem the tears. To fill the void. But it’s all futile, all temporary, all meaningless, like chasing after the wind. You can run fast, far and forever, but you will never catch it.
We try to stem the tears with pleasure, the hedonistic lifestyle. I went through a period where I was doing everything I could to forget the pain. I was in nightclubs 3 times a week. I had no qualms and no boundaries. It didn’t work.
He walked out of that tomb to reach out to you. As He lives forever – so can we.
Or maybe some of you throw yourself into work. Into building your career. Into stockpiling in your bank account. But you’ll find this is a neverending chase. How much is enough? Just a little bit more, always a little bit more. In Haggai 1:6, the Bible calls it putting money into a purse with holes in it. The more you put in, the more you lose.
Maybe you try to find satisfaction, fulfilment, joy in people. But people are people. Flawed and fallen. Even the best ones will disappoint.
We will only be satisfied when you look for the one who is looking for you. Jesus.
All of us are created by God, in the image of God. But since the days of the Garden of Eden, when Man tried to be like God, and were chased out of paradise. So since then, all men – you and I – have been born out of paradise.
Because Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, where they once only knew all things good, now we also experience evil. Sadness, pain, tears, death.
Man was not supposed to die. In the middle of the Garden of Eden there was a tree of life. If we were still there, we would never die. But now we are not, we are destined for death in the body. But after your body breaks down beyond repair, one thing still remains: Your soul.
It can go two ways. Back to our Maker, Father God. Or it walks away, into the pit of fire. Jesus, who is God, came to earth, to die for our sins, to create a way out of this horrible fate.
On the Cross, Jesus chose to take all of our sins, our evil thoughts, our unclean hearts, our guilt, our shame, our fear, our condemnation, our sorrow, our pain, our tears – He took it all with Him. When He died on the Cross, all of that died with Him.
At the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene realises there’s two reasons the tomb might be empty. Either a tomb raider was at work – or Jesus really was the Son of God, and He walked out of that tomb to reach out to her. As He does to you.
Who are you looking for, Jesus asks Mary Magdalene. And at that moment, imagine the flood of emotions she’s feeling: I thought I’d lost all hope, all direction, lost my friend. But the tomb is empty. I’ve got my hope, my direction, my friend back.
He walked out of that tomb to reach out to you. As He left the graveclothes behind, so can we leave the stains of this Earth and these fallen bodies behind. As He lives forever – so can we.
* This article presupposes that Mary Magdalene is the same person as Mary, sister of Martha, whom Jesus visited at Bethany. There is sufficient doubt about this point – see articles here, here and here for a sampling – as to make it impossible to call it either way with absolute certainty.