Set Aside Your Mourning Clothes

On the Friday Jesus died, two women named Mary watched as a faithful man place Jesus’ dead body in a new tomb (Matt 27:57–61). Both Marys loved Jesus and had remained near him throughout the excruciating crucifixion––even when other disciples scattered. Both women mourned Jesus’ death, now just hours ago. Both women wanted to honor Jesus by anointing his body with spices for burial (Mark 16:1).

But observance of the Sabbath required the women to wait until Sunday.

Thirty-six long hours. Of waiting. Wailing. Bemoaning unspeakable grief. Their teacher and Lord slain. Their friend gone forever (or so they thought). Their hope slashed as confusion darkened their hearts and minds. Have you ever experienced the overwhelming weight of uncertain waiting and heart-wrenching grief? If so, think about how you felt as you tried to comprehend what happened.

Imaginative Prayer #1: Imagine yourself with the two Marys on Friday night and Saturday.

  • Sabbath represented a time of delight in God and remembrance of his faithfulness. Yet this Sabbath plunged them into a time of deep mourning. Jesus, the Son of God, had just been crucified.
  • If you were there with the women, not yet knowing of the resurrection, how would you have felt? How could you have sat with them in their grief and comforted them?
  • Psalm 94:17–19: “Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”
  • How does this passage speak to us in times of heartache and anguish?
  • If you have experienced a season of anxiety or loss, pray these words from Psalm 94 to God and ask him to comfort you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ask him to revive hope and a spirit of joy within you, even in dark circumstances.
  • Pray the words of this psalm and ask God to bring comfort to the people you know who need encouragement.

On Sunday morning just after sunrise, likely dressed in “mourning” clothes, the two Marys headed toward the tomb. They knew that touching Jesus’ dead body would make them “unclean” according to religious law. They did not care.

As they approached the cave, they could see the large stone sitting beside the entrance. Who had moved it? The Roman guards were M-I-A. The women cautiously entered the burial tomb… but… wait… where was the body? A man in bright white clothes told them, “Jesus has risen! He’s not here! Go, tell the disciples!” (Mark 16:1–7).

Imaginative Prayer #2: Imagine yourself with the two Marys on Sunday and Monday.

  • If you were there with the women on Sunday, not fully understanding what Jesus’ resurrection meant, how would you have felt? What would your conversation entail as you and the Marys left the empty tomb in your mourning clothes and went to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive?
  • Imagine now it’s Monday. Jewish tradition included a 7-day “shiva” or mourning period after a person’s death when family and close friends gathered at the house and remained in mourning clothes. Culture accepted the hiring of “professional mourners” paid to cry and wail as a depiction of the deep grief felt by loved ones. However, imagine you’re preparing to meet the two Marys and other disciples to head to Galilee to see Jesus again. Could it be true? Is he alive? You hesitate at the door, wondering if you should still be wearing your mourning clothes.
  • Then Jesus appears in your room. He smiles his big, warm smile as he looks into your eyes. And he assures you, “Set aside your mourning clothes. Death is defeated and I will raise you to eternal life. It’s time to rejoice!”
  • Philippians 4:4–7: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • Jesus, the Son of God––the Source and Sustainer of life––has indeed overcome death once and for all! Breathe his eternal breath––in and out. Slowly: IN 2, 3, 4… HOLD 2, 3, 4… OUT 2, 3, 4.  Once more: IN 2, 3, 4… HOLD 2, 3, 4… OUT 2, 3, 4.  Now pray the words of Philippians 4 above and ask God to help you soak in his peace.  

Friends, the last two years have been a time of prolonged loss, anxiety, and uncertainty for many of us. And whether or not we remember when we put on our mourning clothes, many of us struggle with when we should take them off. Wisdom affirms that grief entails a process which looks different for each person and each trial. As believers, part of the healing process includes setting aside our mourning clothes as we hold fast to our Savior and courageously look forward to the season ahead.

Let’s close today’s exercise by sitting with Jesus. Pray through these words he shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We will have trouble, but Christ has defeated death and overcome the world! Amen!

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