Weeping and Waiting for Jesus: An Easter Devotional from the USA

Dear Friends,

Happy Easter! Today, we rejoice in the abundant and eternal life we have in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Today, we also remember in prayer all who dwell in the valley of the shadow of death, as wars rage on and injustice prevails in our suffering world. Today, Aaron Harrison affirms those of us who weep and urges us to wait for Jesus to say our names.

Aaron joined the Scholar Leaders team in January as Manager of Donor Engagement and Project Manager for No More, a new initiative that addresses sexual abuse in seminary and church spaces. In addition to working in advancement and ministry development, Aaron serves as an Anglican priest, teacher, pastor, and church planter. Previously, he taught at Northern Seminary and worked in advancement at Wheaton College (Illinois, USA). Aaron lives in Carol Stream, Illinois with his wife and son.
 
Aaron shares the following devotional:

Weeping and Waiting for Jesus

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.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “
Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

– John 20:11-18 NRSV

Illumination from the Syriac Rabbula Gospels (586 CE)

Every night during our bedtime routine, my son asks to hear a Jesus story. He is four. For a while now, he has gravitated toward “the one where Jesus dies.” The way I tell it, we start at the Last Supper, then the betrayal, the trial, and the crucifixion, ending with the resurrection. 

Lately, I’ve been telling him John’s version of the resurrection, centering on Mary Magdalene. And in telling the story again and again, I’ve been able to see Mary’s experience of the resurrection in a new light.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” 

Over the past three years, I’ve been planting a church in Wheaton, IL with folks who have been deeply hurt by abuse of power in the Church. We started as a small group, meeting for prayer, sharing our pain, and wondering how we might hold on to Jesus when the Church turns its back on the most vulnerable. We had watched as a prominent local church in my denomination tried to cover up sexual abuse by further abuses of power, and as the denomination’s leaders continue that pattern by lying to survivors and delaying accountability. 

Church had become like a tomb, and we were weeping outside.

Is there a place like that for you? – a hope unfulfilled, a dream unrealized, a literal tomb where death has triumphed? You know that Christ’s tomb is empty, but that’s not a comfort. Rather, it’s a problem because it means that Jesus isn’t here anymore. And you really need him to be here.

Mary Magdalene was the first apostle of the resurrection, but she didn’t know it then. In John’s Gospel, she had gone to the tomb alone, seen the stone removed, and run to tell everyone that they had taken Jesus’ body. 

Peter and the Beloved Disciple then got up and ran to the tomb, the latter getting there first, but Peter was the first to enter. Peter entered the tomb to see. The Beloved Disciple followed in after him. They both had faith and returned home. 

But Mary remained outside. She couldn’t go home. So, she cried. She wept.

Melancholy (1876) by Odilon Redon (Source: Art & Theology)

Weeping is not a response we usually associate with Christ’s victory over death. After all, his resurrection secured our place with him in the Kingdom, where there will be no more weeping. But it is in weeping that our ability to identify the resurrected Christ begins.

Mary wept. She looked into the tomb and said again – to the angels sitting there! – what she had said before: They have taken his body. What if weeping was the necessary first step in encountering the resurrected Christ? 

At my church plant, on December 21st, we hold a “Longest Night” service. On the darkest day of the year, the people of God gather to lament, grieve, pray, and silently pour out their broken hearts to God. We ask them at the end of the service to light a candle and place it before an icon of Jesus’ Crucifixion or of Mary, the Mother of God, who was there at Christ’s death and later saw the empty tomb. 

We need to weep, even on Easter morning, because God meets us amid our tears. Tears can cleanse. Tears can refresh – not just our literal eyes but our spiritual sight as well.

What happened next to Mary Magdalene is striking. When she turned away from the tomb, she saw Jesus, but she didn’t know it was Jesus. She had proclaimed his resurrection without knowing it. She was seeing Jesus and didn’t know it. It is only when Jesus said, “Mary” – only when he called her by name – that she saw him for who he truly is.

Mosaic Detail from the Resurrection Chapel of the Washington National Cathedral (Source: Trinitas Blog)

Are you waiting for Jesus to say your name?

When Jesus said her name, everything changed. Mary had wept because she no longer had the body of the one she loved. Now, Jesus was calling her to be present with him through faith. 

We believe because of Mary’s apostolic message, that she had seen the Lord. The Lord is present to Mary and to us. With Mary, we no longer grasp after what has died but are held by what is most alive.

Recently, a young man who comes to our church regularly said something memorable. He said, “Coming to church here feels like it’s less about my faith and more about our faith.” 

Our faith. As a church, we’ve wept for what has died, we’ve endured the unknown, and somehow faith has endured, because Christ still encounters us even when we don’t recognize him. Christ still calls our names.

Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen Indeed! 
Alleluia.

Aaron Harrison

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