Recently, I came across an Easter Sermon I preached 13 years ago. It is not the sermon I will preach tomorrow, but it seemed worth re-reading.

SUNDAY SERMON – EASTER APRIL 16, 2006
WHY ARE YOU WEEPING? JOHN 20:1-18

Some of you know that for the past year or so a certain member of this community has had a magnificent obsession with the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I have been trying to get over it; but still it haunts my little brain.  And this morning C.S. Lewis’ fantasy of four children’s adventures in Narnia has risen again to the surface of my consciousness.

Lewis’ tale begins when Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are sent away from their home in London to stay with an old professor in his mansion in the country.  On their first day in this house the children go exploring.  Lewis describes the house as being,

           the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places.  The first few doors they tried led only into spare bedrooms, as everyone had expected that they would; but soon they came to a very long room full of pictures and there they found a suit of armour; and after that was a room all hung with green, with a harp in one corner; and then came three steps down and five steps up, and then a kind of little upstairs hall and a door that led out onto a balcony, and then a whole series of rooms that led into each other and were lined with books – most of them very old books and some bigger than a Bible in a church.  And shortly after that they looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door.  There was nothing else in the room at all except a dead blue-bottle on the window-sill.

This is the universe we inhabit.  It is an often confusing world of “unexpected places,” with stairways that go up and seem to lead nowhere, and hallways that wander from place to place, sometimes without much apparent sense.  There are rooms in this world that are filled with knowledge and with learning, and other rooms that seem quite empty and full of nothing but death.

When the children look into this last room, the room “empty except for one big wardrobe” and the dead bug, Peter sums up the wisdom of the world by saying simply “Nothing there!”  For Peter, viewing the world through the normal senses with which we are accustomed to perceiving reality, there is no excitement in this empty room.  It is just an empty room.  And so, Lewis says, all the children, “trooped out again – all except Lucy.”

It is that last detail that makes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe essential reading on this Easter Sunday.  On that first Easter Sunday morning, another Peter and his fellow disciple ran to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid.  When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb and the body gone.  “Nothing there!” except an empty tomb and the feeling of death and despair.  So, they all “trooped out again” – ” “all except” Mary.  “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”  And, as Lucy discovered a whole new world beyond the wardrobe in the room in the professor’s house, so Mary found a world beyond death in this garden.

But it didn’t happen right away.  For Mary and for Lucy there were lessons to learn along the way.  Mary sees “two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” Then, Mary turns and sees a man standing outside the tomb.  She thinks he must be the gardener.  Strangely, the man asks Mary the same question the angels asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:12,13,15)  What kind of a question is that?  Surely, the answer is obvious.  Do you want me to make a list?

I am weeping because all of the beauty, love and truth in the world have been destroyed.  I am weeping because the forces of violence and hatred have overcome the promise of goodness and life.  I am weeping because all of my hopes, and expectations for a better world have suddenly been dashed.  I am weeping because there seems to be nothing but pain and there is no light any longer in the darkness.  I am weeping for all the sorrow in my heart and in the hearts of all the people I love.  I am weeping because there is too much violence, too much war, too much brokenness, too much sadness, anger and hatred, too much suffering.  I am weeping for the mothers who lament their dying children, weeping for the starving, the poor and the oppressed.  I am weeping because there is no longer anyone here to tell the truth and to show that the light of God’s love is more real than all the sorrow I see everywhere I look.  Do you want me to go on?  Is that not enough cause for weeping?  How can anyone not weep?  How can we not be heartbroken at the suffering of the world around us?  How can we not be overwhelmed by the pain?

Mary’s lament rings in our hearts.  Mary mourns for the brokenness of life.  Mary weeps that the world is so shattered and we just do not know how to fix it.  Mary weeps for me, that I seem to be powerless to be the person I was created to be, that I cannot love with the purity, openness and authenticity for which I long. Mary weeps because over and over I let down the people I love.  Mary weeps because my heart so often goes in two directions at the same time; she weeps for my hypocrisy, my poverty and my failure.  She weeps because I deny God and fail love every day of my life.

Mary weeps through the ages.  One wonders if her tears will ever end.  One wonders if there can ever be an answer to all the weeping of the world.

After Mary recognizes Jesus in the garden, he says to her, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17) And this is the answer to all our weeping.

Towards the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after Aslan has returned from death, he is organizing his troops to march into battle against the forces of the Queen of Narnia.  Lewis describes Aslan calling for order among his unruly soldiers,

            ‘And now!’ says Aslan.  ‘Those who can’t keep up – that is, children, dwarfs, and small animals – must ride on the backs of those who can – that is lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants and eagles.  Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is. Look lively and sort yourselves.’

            And with a great deal of bustle and cheering they did.  The most pleased of the lot was the other lion who kept running about everywhere pretending to be very busy but really in order to say to every he met, ‘Did you hear what he said? Us Lions.  The means him and me. Us Lions.

And Jesus said to Mary, “my Father and your Father…my God and your God.”  In the midst of her weeping, Jesus says to Mary, my Father is your Father; my God is your God; we are one.  You are as I am.  And that is what we need to hear.  You see everything we are weeping about comes from our awareness  that the world has let us down.  Everything we are weeping about points to the ultimate insufficiency of everything in the world.

We began our journey to Easter on Ash Wednesday with the sign of ashes.  Those who came to worship on that day knelt here at the altar rail and Harry and I went along the line and made a black smudge of ash in the sign of the cross on each forehead.  As we marked you with the sign of death, we said, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  That’s the end of all physical life – dust and ash.  It all comes down to that.  And we know instinctively in our hearts that we were created for something more.  We know that life is more significant than that tiny little pile of ash that marks the end of every physical existence.

The resurrection of Jesus tells us that our instinct is right. Our true nature lies beyond this mortal life.  Life is bigger than this physical realm we take so seriously. Our true destiny lies in communion with God.   All our weeping points to our desire to know Eternal Love.  And it seems that the only way to know this is through our tears.  Somehow it is our weeping that opens us to an awareness of that dimension of life that transcends death.  It is our weeping that softens our hearts and makes them accessible to the reality of an everlasting love that is our true destiny as human beings created in the image of God.

It is this we long to know. We long to know that we are one with this reality that transcends death.  We want to know that, in spite of all the sadness, we are held by that force of life and love that brought Jesus out of the tomb and restored him to his friends.  We want to know that there is a light beyond all the darkness of violence we see around us and the failures we know in our own lives.  We want to know that the tomb is not the end.  And the only way we can know this is for Jesus to tell us that what he is in his risen form is what we most truly are.

Paul says, “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” (I Corinthians 15:44b)  That “spiritual body” has been seen in history in the resurrection of Jesus.  That “spiritual body” which is hidden within our inner most being, was manifest on the shores of Galilee as Jesus walked again among his disciples.  And his message to them was, this is your true life.  This spiritual reality that transcends death, brokenness, pain and suffering is your true identity.  Trust in this reality, rest in this truth.  Take the confidence of Christ’s resurrection and live in the glory of his victory over death.