On that day, what the women did was get up.
They got up in the dark, and they went to the tomb as the first day was beginning to dawn. Turns out, this was not even the first time they had come to the tomb. After Jesus had been killed, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ broken body, and Pilate gave it to him. Joseph wrapped Jesus in a linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that was hewn in the rock.
And you know, the Marys were there— even after Joseph went home. The Bible says they were sitting there. Opposite the tomb.
Now before the women watched Jesus get buried in the tomb, they saw him die. They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him along the way. When the soldiers seized him and executed him, the women were there, watching from a distance.
If you’re wondering what the women were doing there, me too. Some of them were disciples and mothers of disciples. Certainly they weren’t there to cheer on the execution, but they weren’t trying to stop it either, I mean how could they? All they could do was see it, and hear it, and hold each other up.
The women would keep vigil. They would stay with his body. They would sit opposite the tomb, and when the sabbath made them go home, they would get up in the dark and come back…
These days, many of us don’t often think about executions, but there are still executions in our world. Like the women at the cross, there are still people who have to watch. Until I read Sarah Griffith Lund’s taboo-shattering book Blessed Are the Crazy, I did not fully consider the cost of watching someone be put to death. She describes what it was like to attend her cousin’s execution, and you can tell, there are pretty much three groups of people who watch.
First, there’s the staff of officers and medical personnel. They have to be there; they’re commissioned and paid. Next, there might be the victim’s family. Often they’re awarded the right to watch, so their attendance becomes a way for them to honor their loved one. Finally, there’s the family of the one being killed.
Now the people who watch are separated from each other, parceled into different chambers. I am sure they have very different experiences. I’m also sure. There’s no way to watch a person get killed and be okay afterwards. Nobody goes home okay.
This year during Lent, our church read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. He’s a defense attorney, and his book is a collection of stories of people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system. It paints a troubling picture showing how our prison system is racist, and damaging, and broken. Something I find so powerful about this book is how Stevenson chooses to end it.
He tells the story of an unnamed, older woman whose teenage grandson was murdered. She came to court every day for the trial, but after his killers were sentenced, she did not find consolation. So, she kept coming back. She began coming to the courthouse day after day, to sit down next to people who were hurting.
If you ask her what she’s doing there, she’ll tell you, she’s there to catch stones. See a courthouse is a place where a lot of people are hurting, and a lot of the hurt comes from stones we throw at each other. She says, I’m here to catch the stones.
When you consider the systemic injustice of the prison system, maybe it seems like a woman comforting people at a courthouse is not the most we can hope for. And maybe what she’s doing is more world-changing than we might realize. And maybe there’s something about her commitment to stonecatching that rings every familiar chord in us.
What the women did was show up. They watched Jesus die, and maybe they shuddered and wept, and maybe they threw up. But they didn’t leave. They stayed with each other, and they stayed with him. The people who have watched an execution understand. The woman catching stones at the courthouse understands. We will show up. We will go right into the sorrow; then we’ll sit down —even if we have to sit on the floor. This is what the church does.
On the worst day, we will show up and sit with you, if you want. We’ll go with you all the way into the room and hear them deliver the news. Then we’ll stay and hear your pain. We know it’s the pain that goes unlistened to that gets more power. So we will listen to your pain. All of it. We will believe you. We’ll go down and get more coffee. We’ll stay as long as you need.
We cannot stop every trauma, but we can make sure you don’t have to carry it by yourself. You do not have to hold in your tears, or your story, or your shame. You’ve got a whole church here for you.
But here’s the thing. You and I know, this is the work of the church. And. You and I know, we could get hurt doing this. There’s no way to catch stones and not get your hands bruised. No way to try this and not get somebody else’s tears on your shirt. Listen to their pain for a minute and you’ll get your own tears on your shirt. We are volunteering to have our hearts get broken. Then we’re volunteering to stay all night.
It is absolutely a miracle that we can know this is what we’re signing up for, and we’re still going to do it. The other miracle is what happens next.
The truth is, it’s not just that we could get hurt. Sign up to sit with the sorrow, and know that we are putting ourselves at risk of seeing heaven crash into the earth. And we’ll have to watch. And look, nobody meant for this to happen, but it does. The angels charge in uninvited! The earth shakes and knocks us down. Even our sorrow gets shattered. Even the hurt we’ve promised to hold —even the grief we have left gets taken away.
You can imagine. Maybe you go to visit someone who’s in the hospital. On the long walk in from the parking lot, you steel your soul. You know death has been in these halls, on this elevator. Your hands reek from the wall-dispenser sanitizer, you go in the room ready to sit down and stay with the suffering.
Only thing is, on Sunday afternoons, there’s a huge choir of teenagers that roams the halls. If they come at you, watch out, all heaven’s about to break loose. Here you’re showing up to listen to the pain; instead the room starts filling up with singers. They’re blocking the door, spilling into every corner, wrapping you in harmony and there’s no way out! And when we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun… There’s no mistaking what this is. That isn’t death you’re hearing; it’s life.
I know we have made it our business to sit down in the pain, to stay with the trauma until it loosens its grip, and we’ll stay all night if we have to. But the risk is not just that our hearts might get broken. It’s that life will charge in and get us up from the dead.
I wish I could explain how it works, and I can’t. All I can tell you is that it’s something like seeing the cello you haven’t played in twenty years and thinking, I wonder if I still could.
It is absolutely a miracle that you can change the broken string and manage to get it in tune. It is absolutely a miracle that you can still play the Bach Musette you’ve always liked; it’s still under your fingers. The other miracle is whatever got into you that made you want to give it a try after all these years. This is what life does, you know. This is what God does.
The women had been following Jesus from Galilee and providing for him. They listened to his teaching, and you know he believed them. When Jesus was executed, the women were there. They watched him die, then they didn’t even leave.
The women would keep vigil. They would stay with his body. They would sit opposite the tomb, and when the sabbath made them go home, they would get up in the dark and come back… Now they have steeled their souls, they have come for the death, but it’s life that finds them instead.
And behold there was a great earthquake! The angel burst out of heaven, and rolled back the stone, and sat down. He spoke the words that changed the world: Do not be afraid. Jesus is not here. He has been raised from the dead.
The women rush in to see the empty tomb. They rush out to go tell the others, but that’s when they meet Jesus. They fall down on the ground worshiping him. He says: Do not be afraid, so the women got up and ran to tell the others.
It is absolutely a miracle that Jesus Christ got up from the dead. Now death does not get the last word, now resurrection could happen to us. The other miracle is that the women got up from their grieving.
They saw the man they love get killed, then they fell down into the horror and stayed there. Then heaven crashed down, and the women got up, as though this could happen to us. Look I know we have come to stay all night, but even the night will turn into morning. Mourning will turn into dancing. All you who are hurting and brokendown from sorrow, you will come back to life, Life will come back to you, do not be afraid.
On that day, what the women did was get up. You know this could happen to us. Amen.