“My tears have been my food day and night.”

by Fr. Blake

A sermon on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, in response to the shooting in Aurora on July 20, 2012, which I preached at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colorado on the Sunday following that event. This was published soon afterwards in a paper which has proved short-lived, and can no longer be found there. Given last night’s events in Paris, it seemed timely to me to re-post it here, in a new format.

Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Judith 9:1, 11-14; Psalm 42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-18; John 20:11-18
“My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long they say to me,‘Where now is your God?’” In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,Amen.

Today we keep the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and it’s fitting that we do. She is a figure of great extremes: completely overcome with joy to hear the words of grace spoken to her; or throwing herself at the feet of Jesus before he went to die, anointing him with her tears; or sitting in rapt attention listening to Jesus’ every word; or in the garden on Easter Sunday morning, so inconsolable in her grief that she does not recognize the risen Jesus, thinking him the gardener instead. In art she’s often depicted as unkempt, her long hair in tangles, arms outstretched, robes aflutter, absorbed utterly in the emotional demands of the moment.

Many of us today are still reeling from the news of the shooting in Aurora late Thursday night, at a midnight showing of the new Batman film. I have spoken with some of you between then and now, and with many friends and colleagues around the church. Everywhere people are in shock. They are horrified. They are angry. They are deeply saddened. I for one have tried time and again to imagine myself in that theater. And yet I simply cannot. In my imagination I cannot get past the entrance of a masked man through an emergency exit, staring quietly at a packed house. That’s it. My imagination stops there. Ceases to work.

Underlying all of this, of course, like a menacing, barely discernible pedal stop on an organ, there sounds the note of similar events in our past; most notably the Columbine shooting, which undid so many people across the country, and was so close to this community.

For many of us, these events have the capacity to unleash a storm of emotional energy. For others, events such as these do not stir up passion but create anxiety in the conscience by the very lack of passion. For still others, they are left unable to speak at all, with no words to say.

For all of us, these events occur on top of the whole world of feeling and memory which our spirits contain at any given point, emotions born of our own life’s experience: loneliness, heartbreak, despair; joy, peace, happiness; hardship, fruitfulness, stoicism; enduring memories of failure, success, and loss. Events like Friday’s shooting hit us amidst all these pressing realities, and our reactions vary accordingly.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while all the day long they say to me,‘Where now is your God?’” It’s not often that preachers reflect on the Psalm in sermons; but today I think it’s singularly appropriate. It’s been the tradition in the Church, and in Israel long before the Church came to be, that the Psalms are the prayer book and hymnal of the whole people of God. The Psalms are full of every emotion and every situation conceivable under the sun.

Today’s is one of the most celebrated and most beautiful of them all. “As the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.” “My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long they say to me,“Where now is your God?” All the extremes are present here. Every experience, every emotion. Indeed the Psalms often trouble us with the violent language some of them use, and with the intimate romantic language that others use. But in the context of Holy Scripture, these words are for us to make our own. In situations where we have no words to say, the Psalms give them to us. In situations where our emotions are too strong for any thoughtful consideration, the Psalms speak for us, channeling our experience into subject, verb, object; metaphor, symbol, analogy. The Psalms give us a language to speak when we cannot speak ourselves; and they give us words to say which otherwise we would not dare to speak.

Why? Why be that vulnerable? Why bother to expose ourselves to God in such a clear, glaring way? Because in doing so we admit to ourselves our own humanity. And in expressing it to God, we take hold of that humanity, and are given grace to fulfill everything that we are: our thoughts, our emotions; our fears, our hopes. To rage in the words of the Psalms is to strip naked, and stand before God with nothing but ourselves and a plea for God to look at us; and in the looking to have mercy. In this way he clothes us with his love, and makes us whole. This is what prayer is all about, standing before God, hiding nothing, but offering our whole selves — cold, hot, clean, messy — to his loving care.

So: 12 are dead in Aurora, 49 are wounded. We can be angry. We are allowed to be sad. We can be confused. Be stunned. Be silent. To do these things is to be human. And it is to embrace that fragility of our nature which is one of humanity’s chief beauties. To do this is to be like Mary Magdalene, who hid nothing from the God she loved.

But in the throes of our emotions, let us not be fooled into being blinded to other things; let us not fall prey to self-centeredness and self-pity and self-righteousness. Instead, with Mary Magdalene, let the rage and roar of each of our human passions prompt us to look up and behold the Cross.

The Cross:“tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time,” and “on which the Prince of Glory died,” as the old hymns have it. There, on the Cross, all our human emotions — and not our emotions only, but all the wickedness too: in your heart and in mine and in the man who shot into the crowd Thursday night — all our human emotions and all human wickedness hang together, in the body of one innocently condemned to death. And in that Body, all emotions, all wickedness, and all humanity are caught up and transfigured by God’s amazing grace. Where before there was strife and discord and violence, there is peace and unity and love. Because he who died a human on that cross is the same One who spoke into the void and created the cosmos, and whose love sustains the stars in their courses. He who died on that cross went into the grave and harrowed hell, that forgiveness might now rule over justice; peace over destruction; and love over hate.

Let the events of this past Thursday night, and each of our emotions, prompt us to look up and behold that Cross, on which Life begins: life for all, together, in the communion of the saints: which spans every place, and every time, and every pain, and every joy; united by the one prayer of the one Spirit, flowing among each of us, through the Son, to the Father.