John 20: 14-16; Luke 24: 13-19a
Questions from the Risen Christ
We’re continuing again or series on the questions that Jesus asked in the Gospels, and looking at what they mean for our lives, as well as what the idea that he just asked so many questions in itself means. And that’s actually one of the big things about today’s topic. This is about the risen Christ. And one thing we need to look at is whether or not the same Jesus leaves the tomb as the one that entered it. Does Jesus change how he interacts with the world after the resurrection? Because people change after traumatic experiences. We know that as human society. People change when there are dramatic and traumatic experiences that happen. And Jesus died; you can’t get much more traumatic than that. He died. And now he has come back to life. After three days, has he changed? He asked a bunch of questions before, but now does he have more urgency? Now that he’s been put to death by the Romans, does he not have time for that anymore? Does he offer more answers now?
And the answer is no. He’s still asking a bunch of questions. Even as he’s preparing to leave; he only gets 50 days here after the resurrection before he’s raised into heaven and goes back to his father. Even in the short amount of time that he knows he has left he still asks questions. And that’s a good thing because it means that it is not a different Jesus that emerged from the tomb; the tomb did not change him. This is the same Jesus that we follow his teachings. That same Jesus conquered death unchanged. This is good news that he emerges from the tomb still asking questions. Death has no hold on him. And the Jesus who interacts with us today, this post resurrection Jesus, is in fact the same Jesus that we read about throughout the Gospels; the same Jesus that we know and love in the story.
He’s still asking questions. And he’s still asking ordinary questions. Even on Easter, the most extra-ordinary day, the biggest day of all the Gospels, he’s still asking ordinary questions: “did you get anything to eat?” “what are you talking about?” “woman, why are you weeping?” And yet they are questions that make us think, questions that make us explore; both exploring ourselves inside ourselves and exploring the world around us. Ordinary and profound. These are the questions that Jesus asked in the Gospels and he still asks today.
We see all of that in the question from the Gospel of John. Mary has come to the tomb and with Peter and John. Peter and John have seen the empty tomb and have gone back to the upper room, but Mary remains alone. She sees angels inside the tomb, but doesn’t quite understand the resurrection yet. And then she leaves the tomb and she sees a man she believes to be the gardener. And she’s crying. And the man asks her “woman, why are you weeping?”
And there’s more than one way he could ask this question. He could be asking: “woman why are you weeping,” as in “don’t you understand all the times I told you that that I would be resurrected?” So in other words, “woman there’s nothing to cry about. What are you doing? You don’t need to cry, there’s nothing to worry about.” He could be asking like that. Or he could be asking in a way where he’s really saying, “why the tears Mary? I am here for you. Come, lay your shoulder here my dear child.” In other words, “there is reason to cry, there is reason to be sad, but why are you crying? I am here; come and be comforted.” There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God. He could be asking it in some combination of the two.
I have a 3 1/2-year-old son who often requires comfort. I have asked this question to my son multiple times in both ways. There are times where he can’t find something that’s right in front of him, and I am saying “Caleb, why are you crying? It’s right there. What’s going on? You didn’t lose anything, it’s right there! Why are you crying child?” And there are times when he has fallen, and he is scraped his knee, and I’m saying “Come here. It’s OK. The tears are real, the pain is real, but you do not need to cry any longer. I’m here, you’re safe.”
And the thing is that in both of those situations, what Caleb needs is to be held. He is scared and he is hurting, whether he has a reason to be or not. And both times he needs to come to mommy or daddy and be held, be reassured. In that moment he needs me to get down on his level and hug him. And every time, after I do that, after I’m able to sit down and hold him for a few seconds, he feels better. He stops crying; even if he had real reasons to cry.
This is what Mary needed. She didn’t actually have any reason to cry. She hadn’t lost Jesus; Jesus was resurrected. He was standing right in front of her. But she believed that she had reasons to cry. And either way, she needed to be held by her King; she needed to be held by her Lord.
I find it interesting that she sees Jesus, she recognizes Jesus, in the phrase “Mary.” And I point this out every once in a while: there is no punctuation in ancient Greek. You have to kind of add it as you’re translating from the Greek to English. And actually I looked at this verse, because it always amazes me that different translators translate Jesus’s point here to point towards both of the options for how he’s asking this question. In about half the translations there is an exclamation point here, including the one in your pew, the New Revised Standard Version. As if Jesus is screaming at her “Mary! what are you doing? You don’t need to cry.” The other half have a simple period, as if Jesus is saying “Mary. Come here. I love you.” And I have always read it in this second idea, where Jesus is gentle and kind and caring. But I find it interesting that both fit. Because what Mary needs from Jesus is the same either way: she needs to be held; she needs to touch him, to know he’s present, to know he’s real and with her. In fact, the first thing she tries to do is to reach out and grab hold of him, and he says she can’t do that yet. But this is what Jesus offered to Mary in that phrase. And it is what Jesus offers to us.
Sometimes we find ourselves in this situation where what we need from Jesus is to be comforted, whether we have a real reason to be concerned or not. And there’s times where I feel like people have preached a Jesus that we believe is going to respond by telling us “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!” That is a Jesus I’ve never encountered in the Scriptures, but I’ve only encountered in other’s preaching. In my experience, both in my reading of Scripture and my personal experience, Jesus’ response is closer to like what I did with Caleb; when God gets down on the floor and says, “Michael, come here.” Sometimes it’s “Come here. You need to get your head on straight,” but it’s still come here. And I find myself like David in the Psalms. The psalms he begins with laments, even the psalms he begins with “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” type phrases, it ends with “my God is great,” and “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” God offers us comfort in the midst of our distress.
I think we actually see that in the question from the other passage today as well. Jesus walks up to two disciples who were walking home from Jerusalem on Sunday. They had stayed for the three days; the three days the people believed that the soul of the body would remain nearby, but now it is gone, now Jesus is truly dead. They now accept the truth, and they’re walking away talking about the events. And Jesus walks up to them and says “what are you talking about? What’s going on?”
Sometimes to comfort others, different people need a different thing. There is very popular book by Gary Chapman called, The Five Love Languages. And basically it talks about how each individual person requires something different, that he puts in five categories, in order to experience love, Some experience love by simply having quality time, some experienced love like Mary with with a touch, some require words of affirmation, and the list goes on. And I wonder if here Jesus is spending time with, and giving up words (not always words of affirmation) but words to these disciples because that’s what they need. He gives Mary what she needed, and I think he gives what the disciples needed here on the road to Emmaus too.
Jesus meets us where we are, and how we need him to meet us at that moment. See when Jesus comes to Thomas. See when Jesus comes to Peter, or to Paul. In the story they are leaving Jerusalem, and they seek to discuss the events. Jesus meets them on the way out of Jerusalem, walks with them all the way to Emmaus, and discusses the events as they walk. Just as he met Mary where she was at the tomb; sitting, so he joined and sat with her.
Mary received an empty tomb, folded linens, angels; and still didn’t believe. It took a word of comfort to get her to believe. These men received witness accounts from the disciples, witness accounts from the women at the tomb; accounts that the tomb was empty with the women saying that Jesus was resurrected, Mary saying that he had called her name. And yet it took Jesus spending time on the road, working through the events logically, for them to believe.
Jesus will meet you where you are with what you need. That is a key part of the good news within this life that we preach. We announce it. It’s a key part that of the Gospel. We will have moments where we despair, we will have moments where we doubt even. But in those moments Jesus remains with us. He comes to us, meets us where we are, and gives us what we need; even if we don’t recognize that we need him, or that we need him in that way. We preach that he will walk through the valley with us. We all need something different. And Jesus knows what we need, and seeks to grant that to us. Find comfort in that this week. And may you truly be looking for Jesus where you need to meet him this week. He’s there. Amen.