The Way of Tears: Women Mourn the Savior
Suffering and death are not something we modern Americans want anything to do with. The last thing we want at a funeral is an unseemly display of emotion. A few tears are acceptable, but none of this howling and wailing we see in other cultures.
For years people have said to pastors that they aren’t coming to the Good Friday service. “It’s too depressing, I’ll see you at Easter.” People don’t like mourning and tears. They like joy. But how can one truly rejoice at Easter without first grieving on Good Friday? As Solomon says, there’s “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl 3:4). Good Friday is the time to grieve. Our Savior died on this day. And Without the Grief of Good Friday, There Would Be No Joy of Easter.
We see plenty of grief in today’s text, not just the grief of one or two, but “a great multitude” (v 27). The disciples, fearing for their lives, have run away. Except for John, they’re all hiding someplace. That’s the way it usually is, isn’t it? We men are tough, except when it comes to childbirth and sickness and death. Then we disappear and let the women handle it. We show our faces again when the worst is over. Things haven’t changed all that much in two thousand years.
What’s this grieving all about that we see in the text? Some Good Friday grief may be purely cultural. It was unthinkable in those days for a person to die and not have someone mourn for you. Grieving was so culturally important that if a family could afford it, they might hire a whole troop of professional mourners, people who didn’t necessarily know the deceased, but who would put on a good show of tears anyway.
At the Passover, though, folks came to Jerusalem from all over, so for the most part, this is a crowd of strangers that follows the procession of soldiers, criminals, and Jesus through the city streets to Calvary.
Much of this is cultural mourning, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Jerusalem’s women are mourning because they want to. They’ve heard of the wonderful things Jesus has done; perhaps he’s healed some of them. They’ve heard His preaching about the kingdom of God, maybe even in the temple. They know a good and decent man is about to die. How can they not show sorrow?
Though most in the crowd are strangers, not everyone is. Some are women who have known Jesus for years. They’ve followed him here all the way from Galilee. They are the mothers, aunts, and cousins who’ve looked after the daily needs of the disciples. Among them are Jesus’ mother and the mother of James and John. Mary Magdalene is here and probably Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus.
Their grief is not just cultural; they are weeping and wailing for someone they love deeply. For Mary, Jesus’ mother, the prophecy of old Simeon in the temple is coming true on Good Friday. Simeon had taken the baby Jesus in his arms and blessed God for letting him see the long-promised Savior. Then, prophesying the suffering of Jesus, he directed painful words toward Mary: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk 2:35). Now it’s happening. Mary is watching her beaten and bloodied Son being led away to be crucified.
Mary Magdalene and the sisters of Lazarus have their own treasured experiences with Jesus. Mary Magdalene had been tormented by demons. Jesus had cast out those demons and given her back her mind. Martha and Mary had grieved the death of their brother, Lazarus, but Jesus had gone to the tomb and Lazarus had come out alive, restored to his family. Each of these women’s lives was deeply touched by Jesus. How they grieved for Him as He staggered up the path; how they grieved with real grief from the heart.
But there’s one variety of grief that’s missing, one that’s sorely needed. What Jesus wants is the Good Friday grief of repentance with faith. You see, the death of Jesus isn’t just a personal tragedy for Him or for His followers or for His admirers among the women of Jerusalem. It’s an event made necessary by sin. It’s an event that’s a blessing for those who repent and have faith. That’s what Jesus wants from this crowd of mourning women and you and me today.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Lk 23:28), He tells these women and us. What follows are words predicting great tribulation and suffering in the world. Times are coming that will be so horrible women will think the unthinkable—that it would be better not to have children than to have them and watch them suffer. (we believe this came true when Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans in 70 A.D.)
Jesus doesn’t spell out the details on the way to Calvary, but cryptically he says, “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk 23:31). “These things” refers to what’s happening to Jesus—the mockery of His trial, the insults, the torture His body endures, the unthinkable agony of the cross. He is God in the flesh, innocent of all sin, the messenger of God’s love and forgiveness. Though He’s here among sinners, welcoming them into the kingdom of God, this is what they do to Him. If this is what evil men do when the King is present, what will they do when He’s gone? That, dear women of Jerusalem, is what you should be thinking about and what you should be preparing for.
So the message, seemingly mysterious and obscure, is really quite clear. Grieve your sins, women of Jerusalem. You and I today, we should grieve our sins, and turn to God. We should seek His mercy and forgiveness. We should trust His Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior. Don’t grieve for me, says Jesus. Grieve for what is coming, and then prepare through repentance and faith. (We talked about that last night.) Does this mean Jesus has just scolded the women of Jerusalem and you and me for grieving for His suffering and death? Not at all! It’s only normal and right to grieve the loss of one we love. But grieving for the death of Jesus doesn’t lead to salvation; grieving for our sins and trusting in His death and rising again for us does. As we trust Jesus, our tears are changed from tears of grief to tears of joy.
As David says in the psalm, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5). So grieve tonight, not so much for Jesus, but for your sins. Then remember your Baptism and how through water and the Word you are joined to Jesus Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. Believe that as Jesus goes to the cross, your sins are laid on Him there. That’s what He wants you to do—grieve your sins, lay them on Him, let them be buried with Him in the tomb, and then as Jesus comes out of the tomb alive on Easter Sunday, you, too, will know the joy and the gift of being given eternal life. Remember, because of what Jesus did for us…this is Good Friday.
In Jesus’ Name.