This sermon is a product of the 17th century Church of England. Thus, it contains elements that we would think of today as distinctly dramatic, perhaps even a bit “operatic” in tone (this was the era that produced opera and the elaborate Court Masques, after all). In this section of the sermon, Lancelot Andrewes brings to bear his rhetorical and dramatic powers in speaking of Mary Magdalene’s emotions manifest in one sentence: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” He uses repetition to build a sense of Mary's unavoidable pain in this moment, and to show that the Resurrection is the balm for the wound not only in her life, but for all people, ages, and places.
Andrewes draws an exceptionally poignant conclusion in this section: the fact that we are often mistaken in our sorrows and our joys, frequently turning what should be our sorrow into a false joy, and turning our joys into occasions for sorrow. This is a way into understanding what humility truly means for the Christian: seeing things as they are and responding appropriately. He returns to this theme as the section ends by examining the meaning of Mary's many tears, encouraging us to see where we have become dry in our faith, without tears of compunction for wasted opportunities to love and serve.
Indeed, this entire sermon is motivated in large measure by a deep appreciation for the Magdalene’s love for Christ, and how this love is the quality above all that overcomes a lack of understanding or faith. Andrewes was a theologian of the Trinity, and his vision for the human life was one of mystical communion with the Trinity in love and humility. As the sermon progresses, St. Mary Magdalene becomes ever more clearly the model for authentic discipleship in the midst of a world of struggle, sorrow, and change.
Ver. 13. 'And they said to her, Woman, why weepest thou? She said to them, They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.'
Now to their speech. It was not a dumb show this, a bare apparition, and so vanished away. It was visio et vox, 'a vocal vision.' Here is a dialogue too, the Angels speak to her.
And they ask her, Quid ploras? Why she wept, what cause she had to weep. They mean she had none, as indeed no more she had. All was in error, piae lachrymae sed caecae, 'tears of grief but false grief,' imagining that to be that was not, Him to be dead who was alive. She weeps, because she found the grave empty, which God forbid she should have found full, for then Christ must have been dead still, and so no Resurrection.
And this case of Mary Magdalene's is our case oftentimes. In the error of our conceit to weep, where we have no cause; to joy, where we have as little. Where we should, where we have cause to joy, we weep; and where to weep, we joy. Our ploras hath never a quid. False joys and false sorrows, false hopes and false fears this life of ours is full of--God help us!
Now because she erred, they ask her the cause, that she alleging it they may take it away, and show it to be no cause. At the elench [a Socratic dialogue of question and answer], a non causa pro causa, makes foul rule among us, beguiles us all our life long.
Will ye hear her answer to 'Why weep you?' Why? Sustulerunt, that was the cause, her Lord was gone, was 'taken away.'
And a good cause it had been, if it had been true. Any have cause to grieve who have lost, lost a good Lord, so good and gracious a Lord as He had been to her.
But that is not all; a worse matter, a greater grief than that. When one dieth, we reckon him taken away; that is one kind of taking away. But his dead body is left, so all is not taken from us; that was not her case. For in saying 'her Lord,' she means not her Lord alive--that is not it; she means not they had slain Him, they had taken away His life--she had wept her fill for that already. But 'her Lord,' that is, His dead body. For though His life was gone, yet His body was left. And that was all she now had left of Him that she calls her Lord, and that 'they had taken away' from her too. A poor one it was, yet some comfort it was to her, to have even that left her to visit, to anoint, to do other offices of love, even to that. Etiam viso cadavere recalescit amor, at the sight even of that will love revive, it will fetch life of love again. But now here is her case; that is gone and all, and nothing but an empty grave now left to stand by. That St. Augustine saith well, sublatus de monumento grieved her more than occisus in ligno, for then something yet was left; now nothing at all. Right sustulerunt, taken away quite and clean.
And thirdly, her nescio ubi. For though He be taken away, it is some comfort yet, if we know where to fetch Him again. But here, He is gone without all hope of recovery or getting again. For 'they,' but she knew not who, 'had carried Him,' she knew not whither; 'laid Him,' she knew not where; there to do to Him, she knew not what. So that now, nescio ubi with her right. Put all these together, His life taken away, His body taken away, and carried no man knows whither; and do they ask why she wept? Or can any blame her for it?
The truth is, none had 'taken away her Lord' for all this; for all this while her Lord was well, was as she would have had Him, alive and safe. He went away of Himself, none carried Him thence. What of that? Non credens suscitatum, credidit sublatum, 'for want of belief He was risen, she believed He was carried away.' She erred in so believing; there was error in her love, but there was love in her error too.
And, give me leave to lay out three more arguments of her love, out of this verse, to make up eight, towards the making up of her multum.
The very title she give Him, of Dominum meum, is one; 'My Lord,' that she gives Him that term. For it shews her love and respect was no whit abated by the scandal of His death. It was a most opprobrious, ignominious, shameful death He suffered; such, as in the eyes of the world any would have been ashamed to own Him, or say of Him, Meum; but any would have been afraid to honour Him with that title, to style Him Dominum. She was neither. Meum, for hers; Dominum meum, for her she acknowledgeth Him, is neither ashamed nor afraid to continue that title still. Amor scandalo non scandalizatus.
Another, which I take to be far beyond this, that she having looked into the grave a little before, and seen never an Angel there, and of a sudden looking in now and seeing two, a sight able to have amazed any, any but her, it moves not her at all. The suddenness, the strangeness, the gloriousness of the sight, yea, even of Angels, move her not at all. She seems to have no sense of it, and so to be in a kind of ecstasy all the while. Domine, propter Te est extra se, saith Bernard. Amor extasin patiens.
And thirdly, as that strange sight affected her not a whit, so neither did their comfortable speech work with her at all. Comfortable I call it, for they ask the cause why, 'Why weep you?' show they would remove it if it lay in them. Neither of these did or could move her, or make her once leave her weeping--she wept on still: Christ will ask her quid ploras? by and by again. If she find an Angel, if she find not her Lord, it will not serve. She had rather find His dead body, than them in all their glory. No man in earth, no Angel in Heaven can comfort her; none but He Who is taken away, Christ, and none but Christ; and till she find Him again, her soul refuseth all manner comfort; yea even from Heaven, even from the Angels themselves; these three. Amor super amissum reuens consolari.
Thus she, in her love, for her supposed loss or taking away. And what will become of us in ours then. That lose Him,
1. not once, but oft;
2. and not in suppose as she did, but in very deed;
3. and that by sin, the worst loss of all;
4. and that not by any other's taking away, but by our own act and wilful default; and are not grieved, nay not moved a whit, break none of our wonted sports for it, as if we reckoned Him as good lost as found. Yea, when Christ and the Holy Ghost and the favour of God, and all is gone, how soon, how easily are we comforted again for all this! that none will need to say, quid ploras? to us rather, quid non ploras? ask us why we weep not, having so good cause to do it as we then have? This for the Angels' part.