The Art of a Good Question
When I was a trial lawyer, one of the skills that had to be learned was asking good questions. Penetrating questions. Open ended questions. However, if I ask questions on cross-examination of a witness on the stand, I better know for sure what the answer is going to be. We would prepare our own witnesses to answer questions with as little information as possible so as not to give the other side an advantage by offering too much.
In the Gospel reading for this Easter Sunday, we will be looking at the resurrection narrative from the Gospel of John 20:1–18. Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the empty tomb earlier while it is still dark. Overcome by grief and confusion, she wants to know where the body of Christ has been laid. She continues in her grief and confusion until someone she supposes to the a gardener asked her a penetrating question, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Things are confusing because no one in the first century was looking for the resurrection of a dead person, much less the resurrection of a crucified Messiah. This confusion is mixed with grief and weeping.
These two questions invite us to stand with Mary and ponder what’s going on. Reading Scripture is not a spectator sport. It invites us into the narrative, into our own lives and hearts. What do we weep over? Suffering? Confusion? Grief? Loss of relationship or job? Loss of vision? The Scriptures invite us to stand with Mary and weep. Whatever it is that causes us to weep.
But the next question, “whom do you seek?”, invites us to reflect on where or to whom we go for answers and guidance. She doesn’t recognize this man at first until he calls her name, “Mary.” She answers, “Rabboni, which means teacher.” She was looking for a dead master who, now is the living Lord, is looking for her. He takes the initiative. She responds with recognition. These penetrating questions are allowing her to see that she is holding onto the past. She needs to die to the past and now come to know the risen Jesus as Lord of the universe, Lord of Lord and God of God. It is significant that all this takes place in a garden. Similar to Genesis 2 and 3, there is a read – creation taking place. Undoing the curse of the fall, now Jesus through his death and resurrection offers the possibility of new eternal life through faith in him and following him. All she can do is grab onto him. He says stop clinging to me for I must ascend to my father and your father. Go, he says, and tell your brothers.
In v. 18, she goes to her fellow disciples and says “I have seen the Lord.” Now, we see the progression of Easter faith. She has moved from the assumption of a dead body that has been misplaced or stolen to the proclamation that any true follower of Christ must be able to say, I have seen the Lord. The only reason church exists is because there are still people who can say, “I have seen the Lord.” The verb “to see” means more than just physical senses but interior movement towards the living God. Church does not exist because of being organized or buildings or programs, etc. All those have their place. But at its rich depth, it only exists because people can say, “I have seen the Lord.” Can you say that? Prayer, worship, fellowship, Scripture, testimony, all of those are important to know that we know. That’s the question with what we have to be addressed. That’s the question we must answer.