The Bible is full of grief. There is even a book of the Old Testament, often read in Holy Week, called Lamentations. The world is full of tear-stained faces and hearts. It’s as though there’s a great oil-spill of grief floating in the sea of life, beaching first here, then there, bringing ordinary life to a halt. On Good Friday, after the Liturgy, a lady asked to see Fr Keith and myself. She was in tears. She was in tears because a friend of hers had died that morning. Tears are the great index of grief. And those tears, tears from love of a friend, made me think of the tears there must have been in Jerusalem the afternoon that Jesus died. We know about the tears of Peter after the look of the Friend he’d denied. We know about the tears of the women of Jerusalem on the Way of the Cross. We know how early on Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene still couldn’t recognize the mysterious gardener through the veil of her tears. Surely, others wept too. Jesus had even foretold they would at the Last Supper: ‘the world will be rejoicing’, he’d said referring to the dark glee of some at his death, but ‘you will weep and lament’ (cf. Jn 16:20). Never had anyone inspired such love, never had such hopes been raised. There is an old Jewish saying, ‘Every tear brings the Messiah closer.’ Was that already around? ‘You have kept a record of my tears’, says Psalm 55. And Psalm 29: ‘weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ Did Mary remind the other Mary’s and Peter and James and John of that?
Jesus too had wept. For a friend, for Lazarus. Over the city of Jerusalem, knowing it was rejecting grace and embarking on a spiral of self-destruction. Still more, ‘During his life on earth, says Hebrews ch. 5, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the One who had the power to save him out of death.’ We call him the Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And that text goes on: ‘and he was heard’. His tears brought his own Resurrection closer.
Today, we proclaim the Resurrection. Today, first the women, then Peter and the beloved disciple discover the empty tomb. Today, Jesus begins to shine through the tears of his disciples. Today, our whole liturgy cries out: He is risen, truly risen. Today Peter tells a pagan household so (Acts 10). Today Paul says, ‘Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand’ (Colossians). Today preachers throughout the world will be saying the same. Pope Francis will say it Urbi et Orbi. Today something happens, something comes to be, something enters the world greater than grief, and greater by far than all the cheap consolations we so easily turn to. ‘Tell us, Mary: say what thou didst see upon the way. The tomb the Living did enclose; I saw Christ’s glory as he rose! The angels there attesting: shroud with grave-clothes resting. Christ, my hope has risen!’ Yes, more than ‘something’, Someone.
And what does this mean? One could say so much. The Resurrection is something vast. Pope Emeritus Benedict – 90 today – compared it to a mutation in the process of evolution. It opens a new possibility, a new space for humanity. It is victory over death. But it’s something beautifully simple too. The Resurrection’s a wound in the heart of sadness. I’ve mentioned this before, but it recurs to me every Easter: Sam Gamgee’s wonderful question towards the end of the Lord of the Rings. The ring has gone back in the fire, the evil empire has collapsed, and Sam, in recovery, we might say, suddenly realizes his friend Frodo, whom he thought dead, is actually alive; his spiritual father, Gandalf, whom he thought dead, is still alive. And Sam quietly says, ‘Is everything sad going to come untrue?’ Was such a question in the mind of Peter and John when they looked at the empty tomb?
St Ambrose, a 4th c. Church Father, had a gift for one-liners. Looking at Jesus’ grief in the Garden of Gethsemane, he wrote: ‘He took on my sadness to give me his joy.’
The Resurrection is the Father ‘hearing’ the ‘silent tears’ of his beloved Son. It is the original, encompassing answer to prayer, to tears, to grief. Perhaps the linen cloths symbolize that: the divine cloth with which the Lord will wipe away every year from our eyes. Jesus took on our tears, added them to his, and broke the Father’s heart. And raised, given joy, by the Father, he did not hug this consolation to himself. He did not just go off to party in heaven. He shared what he had received. He came to the garden and asked Mary, ‘Why are you weeping?’ He joined the sad pair walking away from Jerusalem and left their hearts burning. He visited his friends huddled and frightened in their Upper Room and left them stammering with joy. He came for grumpy Thomas and astonished him. He turned Peter’s tears into tears of joy with that simple three-fold question, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
In the midst of our tears – how many more must history have? – there stands now a Risen One, the consoled Consoler. ‘He took on my sadness to give me his joy.’
There’s an Easter story from the life of St Benedict. We are in 6th c. Italy. St Benedict at this stage is a hermit, living in a remote cave, completely alone, with no smartphone to tell him the date. He doesn’t know it’s Easter. Some miles away, a priest is sitting down to a good meal. The Lord appears to him and says, ‘Don’t you know there’s a servant of mine with nothing to eat?’ So the priest gets a bag of food together, sets off into the wild countryside and eventually finds Benedict. And he says to him, ‘Don’t you know it’s Easter today?’ And Benedict answers, ‘It must be Easter if I’m seeing you.’ And they share the food together.
‘To comfort the afflicted’ is a work of mercy. It’s first of all God’s. It’s first of all Easter. And Easter, like that priest’s meal, for sharing. How good this parish is offering a meal to the homeless this evening! There are plenty of tears around. Let’s go and be Easter to someone.
(St Mary’s Cathedral Aberdeen, 16 April 2016)