This morning I want to tell you a story. An old, old story, written in an ancient book. As we open the book, the story begins – with [draw out] a handkerchief.
“Why are you weeping?” the man asks Mary.
Why is Mary weeping? Not because Jesus is dead. She has wept for that for forty hours straight, and, for now at least, her tears have run dry. No, Mary is not weeping because Jesus has died. These fresh tears are because someone has carried his body off, she knows not where.
It reminds me of the time when the Israelites were defeated in battle and the ark of the covenant was carried off by the Philistines…
[draw out a wooden box]
It reminds me of the time when the treasures from the temple and the royal palace in Jerusalem were carried off by the king of Babylon…
[draw out the gold rings]
It reminds me of the time when Jerusalem failed in rebelling against the Babylonians, fell, and the royal court was carried off into exile…
[draw out paper chain of people and then fold them together again]
When something or someone is carried off, it is as if defeat were not enough. As if there is something even worse. As if it were God’s way of saying, “I meant for that to happen. It didn’t just happen: it happened as my passing judgement on my people.” Adding insult to injury.
Most of all, it reminds me of the time when Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers. Reuben goes off, and when he returns, expecting to find Joseph in the pit, he discovers that the boy is no longer there. The other brothers have sold him to passing traders, [draw out play money] who carried him off to Egypt. Reuben is distraught.
Many, many years later, Joseph – now ruling Egypt on behalf of the Pharaoh – is reunited with his brothers, and tells them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” God took hold of a heartless action…and from it wrought the saving of the Egyptian Empire, and the descendants of Abraham, from famine.
“Why are you weeping?” the man asks Mary. And then, once the reason is out in the open, he speaks her name. And in that moment, Mary knows that yes, God claims Jesus’ death, that it stands as an act of judgement. But that while men meant it for evil (so passing judgement on themselves), God meant it for good (passing a judgement in favour of life, out of death).
Even if the outworking of that plan might still lie years in the future.
A promise, if you will.
Perhaps that is why Easter is not a day, but a season lasting fifty days. Because Day One is full-to-bursting, with panic and adrenalin and trepidation and boldness and belief and failure to understand and despair and joy and trying-to-hold-on-too-tightly-in-case-it-all-falls-apart-again and fear and doubts and failing to recognise Jesus. Since the stone was removed the future is leaking into the present and the breach cannot be plugged. But it will take us fifty days a year, year after year, to learn how to live into this new reality.
[Close the book]
So, why are you weeping?
What hasn’t worked out the way you hoped as you have followed Jesus?
Where has your hope ended in defeat…only for something even worse to follow?
Sooner or later, we all find ourselves weeping with Mary.
But then he speaks our name.
And if the word spoken on Good Friday is, “It is finished!” the word spoken at sunrise on Easter morning is, “I’ve not finished yet…in fact, I’ve only just begun…”