Woman, Why are You Weeping? {For Women at the Tomb of Their Calling}

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

First the angels ask Mary, then Jesus asks her to explain the reason for the burden of her troubled heart. We understand her grief without explanation—Jesus showed up in her life, changed everything for the better, and now he’s gone. She was once possessed by seven demons—Jesus set her free. She once knew love only by the number on the price tag—Jesus gave her acceptance and belonging without using or abusing her. In Jesus she found light and life. John’s gospel tells us this heart-grieved woman stumbles in the darkness of the early morning to be with Jesus in his death (John 20).Mary is devastated. She has nothing left of the one who made her life finally worth living.

You know how the story develops–she discovers Jesus is missing. She fears someone has stolen his body (a common practice in ancient Rome). She tells Peter and John; they run to observe the empty tomb and discover the linen remnants. But in their grief, they go home, overwhelmed with confusion.

Mary can’t bear to leave. This—everything in this tomb—is all the hope she has. If she were to leave, to what would she return? Jesus was everything to her.

Mary is like a lot of women I know these days. They have no other hook on which to hang their hat; Jesus is it! They’ve hung all their hope and aspirations on him. In different ways than Mary, I grant you. But like her, something about the way Jesus has touched them has made them build their entire lives around him. Their education, training, experience and dreams are specifically fashioned around the life of Jesus. Like Mary, they too have sleepless nights caused by wonderings about the meaning of it all; they wake up early only to sit at the tomb—the place where it seems dreams have gone to die.

And they weep. I weep. 

In this story, the men go home. Peter and John miss the significance of this event and also the turmoil it wrecks upon a woman’s life. Mary weeps and weeps. She’d rather have the body of Jesus than nothing at all. Is her staying at the tomb a sign of despondency, of giving up? Does she wait there because it symbolizes the death she feels inside? Or does she stay because the dream won’t die? Does she intuitively sense that in this death there is resurrection? Is she there at the tomb because she doesn’t want death to have the last word? Maybe like most women, she stays there because she has so many darn questions and she just wants an answer or two that makes half a measure of sense.

Some days I am the woman weeping at the doorstep of dying dreams, wondering where they have taken my Lord. The Lord who lets me call him ‘Teacher.’ The Lord who dignifies and betters. The Lord who equips and empowers. The Lord who makes a captive of no one, not even to ideologies and tradition. Where is he? Where have they taken him?

Friends, if you too are weeping and are tired of the old worn out narrative about women and their callings, I invite you to the hope John gives us in his story. Listen well…and carefully. Let the story awaken you to the question, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Early on the first day…” (Jn. 20:1). Throughout John’s gospel, he has been painting the picture of God’s recreation of all things in Christ. His story runs parallel with the creation account in Genesis. Seven days of creation; seven signs.  It all comes to a climax in Jn. 19 when on the sixth day Pilate announces, “Behold the man!” (Jn. 19:5). Yes, on the sixth day, God created man. Then Jesus declares, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Rest. Just like in the Garden of Eden, the work is done and God rests. But…early on the first day, the new creation arrives! At last there is the glorious restoration of all things. All things.

And Mary is in this new garden at the new tomb in which “no one had ever been laid” (Jn. 19:41). She can’t get her bearings, not without the presence of Jesus. She does what seems unimaginable, that is unless you’ve ever suffered from grief that feels like it will kill you: Mary looks into the tomb. She so wants to see Jesus and to find him in the messiness of it all that she stares down the fear of the unknown and the unthinkable.

And what a discovery she makes. “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” (Jn. 20:12).  John is describing the cherubim on the Ark of Covenant, the place of God’s presence, the place where only the High Priest, a man, could approach. That is until the new creation arrives and then Mary, a woman, a WOMAN—a woman with grace all over her story—is in the the new Holy of Holies, a place in the old creation she cannot be, but now she approaches and is welcomed. If this doesn’t sound outrageously bold and beautiful {and doesn’t make you think deeply about the role of women in the Church} then you are reading the story wrong.

[You can find more on this theory of Jn. 20:12 from Miroslav Volf, D.A. Carson, or you could listen to this really soul-awakening sermon from Easter taught by my pastor.]

The story gets better. Much better.

Jesus appears to Mary. (Although he’s not looking as she has grown accustomed to —and that too will preach.) Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” and then he speaks the word that breathes life into her again, “Mary” (Jn. 20:16). Jesus says her name and she knows it is he. She is known and loved.

Mary does what any of us would do after our hearts have been ravaged by grief—she wants to hold onto him and never let go. If you’re a mom, you know that powerful urge to hug the life out a child who has been momentarily lost. It is part relief and part desperation to never let them get so far away again.

Read carefully what Jesus says next:

Do not hold onto me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (Jn. 20:17)

Mary can’t cling to Jesus because she has a new task in the new creation. She must go and tell. She is called; she is commissioned.

Sister friends, I know what it’s like to sit with dreams that feel like they can be crushed with just a mistimed breath. I know how it feels to have those dreams dismissed, diminished, or distressed by others. I know the temptation to give away our best energy engaging in every argument and rebuttal. I know the desperate, heart-wrenching, head-spinning nature of this journey. We too, like Mary, wake many mornings while it is still dark to travel to the tomb, an empty tomb.

For those of us sisters who have been called to ministry, so many days it can feel as if though they are trying to take Jesus from us. And yes, there are days when we are frantically looking for him and cannot find him through the haze of well, the old creation. But please, do not weep.

Hear the truth of Mary’s Easter morning:

They can’t take Jesus from you.

Jesus is alive and with you.

He is saying your name.

He is telling you to go tell your brothers.

Your calling emerges from the tomb with the power of Christ’s resurrection. The old is being made new. Where there is death, Jesus will bring life.

He is welcoming and embracing you as his own in the presence of our Father. Yes, even when others dismiss you, you belong and are treasured in the family of God.

His story is ours. We are his. What a privilege that is. 

Declare with joy and courage, “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn. 20:18) and do not weep.

1 thought on “Woman, Why are You Weeping? {For Women at the Tomb of Their Calling}

  1. Pingback: And on the third day | A voice in the wilderness

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