October 28, 2018: "Why are You Crying?"

Why Are You Crying?

John 20:1-15 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw 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?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”


Do-si-dos. Tagalongs. Samoas. Thin mints. These are all types of what? Girl Scout cookies! I love me some Girl Scout cookies. Which reminds me of my favorite story about Girl Scout cookies . . .


I was seven or eight years old and a proud Brownie (pre Girl Scout) during cookie-selling season. Having completed my sales, I picked up my inventory and brought my cookies home and set them in the kitchen. Any guesses where in the kitchen I set the boxes down? The stove, of course! I went off to play forgetting, temporarily, about my Girl Scout cookies, which were becoming quite warm as they rested (apparently) on a hot burner. About then, my mother walked into the kitchen and discovered a new recipe—roasted Girl Scout cookies! My cookies were on fire! She screamed out to my father for help and shooed me out the door. One of my brilliant parents threw the cookies, now in flames, onto the floor, setting the kitchen ablaze. My parents furiously fought the fire ravaging our kitchen as I watched from the doorway, crying. My crying apparently wasn’t a whimper, but a loud scream of a cry—enough for my mother to yell out to me from the flames, “Why are you crying? Are you hurt?” My reply, as my house was about to burn down: “My girl scout cookies are on fire!”

My mother let me know that it wasn’t exactly the right time to be crying about Girl Scout cookies although in the book of Ecclesiastes we learn that there is a time for everything, including crying.  


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together.


There is surely a time for tears. There are even good biological reasons for tears.


Did you know there are three types of tears, each serving a different purpose?

1.      Reflex tears happen to clear the eye of noxious particles like smoke from burning Girl Scout cookies, for example.

2.      Continuous tears happen all the time, lubricating your eyes and nasal passage. The lysosome within continuous tears serve an antibiotic function and prevent infection.

3.      Emotional tears are just what you think they are. Emotional tears, in contrast to reflex tears, contain hormones and other toxins that build up during times of stress.[2]

After crying, breathing and heart rates decrease and the person enters a calmer state both biologically and psychologically.


Crying is natural, healthy, and even beneficial. “Big girls don’t cry” is fake news—almost as toxic as “real men don’t cry.” Tears are good and healthy, but chronic tears can be a symptom of depression. Somewhere between 6-9% of Americans live with chronic depression, which means somewhere between 12-18 people in this sanctuary are struggling with depression—some mild, some debilitating. Another bit of fake news is “Real Christians aren’t depressed.” That’s just malarkey. Another piece of malarkey: “Real Christians don’t take antidepressants.” Not. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Come see me, or if that’s too hard, shoot me an e-mail. Let’s get you the help you need.


Now, in the passage I read earlier, which is often used on Easter Sunday, I stopped before the ending. That was intentional. I want to focus on the question that Jesus asked Mary as she stood there, sobbing, in front of an empty tomb. As if she hasn’t been through enough, now she’s convinced that someone stole Jesus’ corpse. But before we get to what the resurrected Lord said to her, I want to consider what he didn’t say.


Jesus did not say, “Mary, don’t cry.” Jesus didn’t try to stop her tears. He didn’t condemn her tears. Unlike many of us, Jesus wasn’t uncomfortable with another person’s tears. Nor was he uncomfortable with his own tears as we discover in the Bible. Many of us, even if we know better than to tell someone not to cry, we tell ourselves not to cry. Some of us have told that to ourselves for so long we can’t remember the last time we cried. Jesus was comfortable with his own tears; Jesus was comfortable with Mary’s tears and gave her permission to cry.


In fact, Jesus pressed Mary to name the reason for her tears—to explore the source of her emotional pain. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “Whom are you looking for?” Mary didn’t recognize him. Perhaps his resurrected form was quite different. Perhaps her vision was blurry through her tears. Perhaps the thought of Jesus standing there was so far outside of reason that her mind simply couldn’t process it. She thought he was the gardener. She pleaded for information about where the corpse had been carried.


That’s the end of verse 15. That’s where I stopped reading. And in my Bible, there’s a tiny, empty space between the end of verse 15 and the beginning of verse 16. It’s the most important empty space in all of scripture. The whole cosmos shifts in that empty space. In that empty space, despair transforms to hope, darkness to light, sadness to joy, doubt to faith. The profundity of this particular empty space gives me hope. It shows that despair and joy are but one breath away. Are you depressed or acquainted with despair? Just. Keep. Breathing.

Mary kept breathing. She couldn’t see clearly. She couldn’t think clearly. It seems like she couldn’t figure out what to do or where to go. But she kept breathing. And in the very next breath, she heard the Lord speak the most powerful word to humans (according to science[3])—her very own name. She couldn’t contain her joy! She embraced Jesus, prompting Jesus to offer her the first of two commands or tasks:


First, he said, “Don’t hold on to me.” There has been lots of speculation about this over the past 2,000 years. But being a fairly results-oriented person myself, I get it. Jesus had a job for Mary to do. And she couldn’t do it while she was holding on to him.


That’s true for us too. We can’t walk into our future while holding onto our past. We have to let go. It’s so hard to let go. Sad tears are often the direct result of having to let go. The baby’s first cry is the direct result of letting go of the security of the womb. Sometimes we choose to let go. Other times we’re forced to let go. Either way, it’s often excruciatingly difficult.


Mary just wanted to go back to how things had been a week ago. Eating together. Walking together. Laughing together. She didn’t want to let go. But she had to. Jesus had a job for her.


Because in the next breath, Jesus tells her to go. Let go . . . to go. He commissioned Mary to be the “disciple to the disciples”. The patriarchy hates this title for Mary Magdalene, so it gave her a bad reputation instead. “Go to my brothers and tell them,” he said. No time for lingering here in the garden. You’ve got a job to do, Mary.


So my friend, why are you crying? Surely there is a time for everything, and maybe for you, it’s time to cry. Maybe it’s time to explore the reason for your tears with a trusted friend or counselor. Let no one rush you. Please don’t hear me rushing you. But I do want to encourage you to keep breathing. You never know what the next breath might hold.


Others may be at a place where you’re holding on to something (or something’s holding on to you), and that something is preventing you from moving into your future or the task that God is calling you to do. There’s a story for you to share or a stand for you to take for a gift for you to offer. “Don’t hold on . . . go!” “Let go . . . to go” Jesus seems to be saying. He’s saying it to certain individuals, and I sense he’s saying it to us as a congregation.


God has given, and continues to give, us a job to do as a church. We’re so much more than a building—so much more than an institution. We are a beacon here on the beach. You ever wondered where the lighthouse is on Clearwater Beach? You’re sitting in it! No, scratch that. WE are the lighthouse!


Called to be a source of light.

Called to be a source of hope.

Called to be a source of love.

Called to be a source of peace.

Called to be a refuge from a world gone mad.

Called to be one of the last remaining places where

            Rich and poor

            Male and female

            Gay and straight

            Liberal and conservative

            White collar, blue collar, and even (sometimes) dog collar

Can come together. We’re building a church. . .not with brick and mortar. . .but with human resources—to carry forth the message of God’s love into the future. We’re BECOMING the church God wants us to be. Always. It takes each of us playing our part.


There is a time to weep.

There is a time to reap.


My question today is this: “What time is it for you as an individual?” The second one is like it, “What time is it for us as a congregation?” Is it time to weep? Is it time to reap?


I close with an old story—one that many of you have likely heard before. It’s the story of Stone Soup:


Once upon a time there was a traveler who happened upon a small village. Everyone in that village was quite sad—there were many tears—for they were quite poor. The traveler was hungry and couldn’t find anyone who was willing to offer him food, for resources were scant—not enough food to share with a stranger. So the traveler said, “No worries! I’ll make stone soup!” No one had ever heard of stone soup before, and the curious villagers gathered around as the man took a large pot, filled it with water, and placed a large stone in it, setting it upon the fire to warm. After a few minutes, he took out a spoon and tasted it, saying, “Mmmm. . .that’s good. But it needs some cabbage.” One of the villagers said, “I have some cabbage to add to your soup—here!” The traveler added the salt, and waited a few moments to try it again. “Mmmm. . .that’s good. But it needs a little broth.” Another villager offered him some broth. After a few moments he tried it again, “Mmmm. . .that’s good. But it could use a few potatoes.” A villager offered the man potatoes to add to the soup.”

“Mmmm. . .that’s good, but it could use some carrots.”

“Mmmm. . .that’s good but it could use some beans.”

“Mmmm. . .that’s good but it could use some corn.”

Eventually, there was a huge pot of vegetable bean soup . . . enough for the whole village! The town elder offered the traveler a large sum of money for the magic stone, but the traveler refused to sell. As he was leaving town, he noticed some children playing near the village gate. He handed the stone to one of the children saying, “It wasn’t the stone that was magic. The villagers performed the magic themselves.”


Church, let’s make some magic together! What can you add to the pot?











[1] Ecclesiastes 3:1-5 NRSV.

[2] Judith Orloff, “The Health Benefits of Tears,” Psychology Today, July 27, 2010: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-freedom/201007/the-health-benefits-tears

[3] Dennis P. Carmody and Michael Lewis, Brain Activation When Hearing One’s Own and Others’ Names,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1647299/#R5


Debbie Wilson