Beloved in Christ:
Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On the first Easter morning, the Resurrected Christ asks Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15). When Mary fails to recognize Jesus, He becomes personal and says to her, “‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” (John 20:16)
Though this beautiful and powerful dialogue between Jesus and Mary may be examined through different theological, cultural, and sociological lenses, may I invite you to recognize Jesus as the great servant leader who demonstrates the quality of empathy in this encounter with Mary.
Stephen R. Covey, from his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, writes “Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement … The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.”
Dylan Marron, a podcaster and writer for the TV show, Ted Lasso, said essentially the same recently: “Empathy is not endorsement” (Dylan Marron, as quoted on Today with Hoda and Jenna, NBC, April 1, 2022). We could all learn to be better empathizers today.
On the first Easter morning, the Resurrected Christ asks Mary powerful existential questions: “Why are you weeping?” And not once, but twice, He asks what she is looking for. Mary turns around and calls Him “Teacher” in her language, a language familiar to her.
Beloved in Christ, on Sunday as we listen to and reflect on the powerful gospel stories of Easter, sing the beautiful Easter hymns with gusto, and smell the aroma of lilies and Easter breakfast, perhaps with fresh maple syrup from our communities, countless “Marys” will be weeping – here and around the world.
- Marys who have lost family members to genocide in Ukraine or who are trying to make their way and find safety in a foreign country.
- Marys who have lost the ability to afford food for their tables in Afghanistan.
- Marys who have lost freedoms behind the wall in Palestine.
- Marys who have lost hope and dignity because of sexual violence and abuse in Ethiopia.
- Marys who have lost their homes, safety, and livelihoods in Syria.
- Marys who have lost access to healthcare, food, and clean water to airstrikes in Yemen.
- Marys who have lost children to gun violence on their streets, in their subways, in their places of worship, in their schools and shops, and in their homes in the United States.
- Marys who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Marys who have lost … so many words could fill this space.
Like Jesus, may we strive to be empathetic to the Marys in our midst: grandparents, parents, children, youth, young adults – children of God of all ages, in spite of their languages, cultures, and accents, by asking the question, “Why are you weeping?” And let us not just ask the question but go on to act as Jesus did, calling Mary first, “woman,” and then, in an empathetic spirit, by her name, so she recognized him in her own language.
This past Palm/Passion Sunday, I worshipped with two of our congregations and joined them for a lunch following the service. It was a wonderfully collaborative service and gathering in which the congregations sang songs of “Hosanna” while waving their palms AND demonstrating the power of that message by sharing the scripture in three languages.
Among these churches’ worshipers is an Afghan family the congregations have been assisting as they become accustomed to American life. They have provided housing as well as rides to the grocery store and appointments while raising money to purchase a vehicle for this family.
Additionally, one of the churches presented me with a check for $5,000 to be sent to UMCOR, earmarked for their ministry and mission in Ukraine, and they boasted in Christ saying, “Bishop, this is in addition to paying 100% of our shared ministries for mission.” Praise God!
Friends, I know ministries like these that show so clearly our Christian empathy are happening in many churches in our Conference. Thanks be to God in and through the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
May God enable us to be a church of the Easter promise, not just on Easter Day, but every day, so all who are weeping – and I mean all – find and enjoy the hope Mary experienced on that first Easter morning!
Prema joins me in wishing you and your loved ones a blessed and glorious Easter!
In Christ’s love,
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar