While it was Still Dark
***Hopefully, every sermon you’ve ever heard has contained the truth, but I can guarantee that no sermon you’ve ever heard has contained all the truth. With every single sermon, good observations, good interpretations, and good ideas end up on the cutting room floor because the Bible is living and breathing and all of it can’t fit in a single sermon. Last week, when I was prepping for my Easter sermon, a good many ideas and suggestions in the story were left on the floor and I thought I’d share those with you this week in the reflections, as we continue to ponder the mystery of resurrection in this Eastertide.
“Early in the morning, while it was still dark…”. This is how the Easter story begins. All the gospels say that it was early in the morning when the women (or Mary in this case) came to the tomb. John adds, “while it was still dark.” It might have been a while since you’ve last seen that time of day. The birds are rustling their feathers and clearing their voices. The wind is tying its shoelaces. The trees are just beginning to stretch their branches and gather for a cup of coffee. It’s not quite day, but it’s not quite night. It’s not yet tomorrow, but it’s not yesterday either. It was about this time that Mary came to the tomb.
And yet, I wonder if John wasn’t particularly talking about the time of day, especially given how he talks about light and darkness all the way through the gospel, even from the very beginning.
In him was life, and the life is the Light of humanity… (1.4)
There was the true Light, which, coming into the world, enlightens every person. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know him…(1.9-10)
Remember that Nicodemus first came to Jesus at night. (3.2)
Remember that when Judas ran out of the upper room to betray Jesus, John says, “It was night.” (13.30)
In this gospel, light is metaphorical for the work of God. Darkness is symbolic of all that opposes the work of God. Light is the truth that illumines all things, while darkness is intent to cover it up. Light is that which reveals God to us and darkness is that which cloaks God from us.
Most of the time, I’ve wanted the light and the darkness to sort themselves out, so I could discern the stark contrast between them. I’ve wanted to be able to differentiate between good people on one side of my life and bad people on the other side. Things not of God over here and things of God over there. But there is more comingling between the light and darkness that we care to admit. And the truth is, God uses both the light and the darkness for redemptive purposes.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard several people express their concern that Easter would feel different this year. The sting of loneliness in this Quarantine, coupled with a strange sense of God’s presence at Easter. The truth of resurrection interplaying with the reality of death all around us. The inexplicable joy, intimately tied to the inexpressible suffering. Tears of joy and the tears of mourning running down the same cheeks.
Truth be told, Jesus doesn’t just show up at the “high noon” moments of life when everything is sorted out and easily visible. He shows up in the twilight hours too, when we don’t yet believe or when we believe in what we don’t yet know. He shows up when we’re crying for good reasons and gives us different reasons to cry. He shows up at a place when the manifold expressions of the world’s evil are on full display, and the rich mysteries of God are also visible right alongside them. Light and darkness all together. Light and darkness that lives in each one of us. Light and darkness that’s visible all over the world. Light and darkness in our newspapers and headlines.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark. I think that’s probably about the only time any of us come to the tomb. But it’s there that we’re met by the Light.
**photo: Detail of Empty Tomb by Anne Cameron Cutri