“While it was still dark”
This day is a great occasion, it is the celebration of all celebrations, the feast of all feasts, the centerpiece of the Church year, and even though for the second year we are not able to celebrate in Church together there is still much to feel good and joyful about this day. Lent has come to an end and we can finally shout “Alleluia Christ is Risen”.
But – John starts our Gospel reading this morning by saying, “Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away. Why then does John start this day of celebration with darkness? I struggled to move passed the darkness, until I spoke about it with my friend Maggie who is a Baptist Minister in Mid Wales, and she suggested that perhaps John wasn’t just talking about the physical darkness we all experience before the sun rises but a spiritual darkness as well, which we all may have experienced at one time or another during our lives – so thank you Maggie for shedding some light on my darkness!
On that first Easter morning things looked very bleak to Mary Magdalene. Mary had been with Jesus almost from the beginning of his ministry. She had seen lives changed, bodies healed, and eyes opened. But on Friday, just a few days before, Jesus had been crucified. Nails had been driven in to his hands and feet. A sword had pierced his side and Mary had stood at the foot of that cross helpless while her friend and Savior was killed, and her heart was broken. How can this have happened? This was the man who had come to save Israel, where was God in all this? That morning as she came to the tomb with the other women, probably to anoint his body for burial, her heart was heavy and, in her soul, “… it was still dark.”
Was Mary wondering “What will I do now?” Peter and the other disciples would probably go back to their old lives again – fishing, tax collecting, and their families, but what about her? We must remember that Mary is the women that Jesus cast out demons from.
Let us go back to our Gospel reading and that first morning in the garden at the tomb. Mary believed in Jesus with all her heart, but she had not thought that it would end this way. However, all was not as it first seemed because even though it was still dark, Jesus had already risen, and we know this because we are told the tomb was empty. God’s plan for Mary’s life was still moving forward, she just couldn’t see it at that time as she was in dark despair and grieving for the friend she had loved and lost.
She didn’t have a life she wanted to go back to. More importantly, what was she going to do without Jesus, her friend and saviour, and the work they had been doing together? Sadness, disappointment, and emptiness must have consumed her. She languished in spiritual darkness.
I expect most of us, myself included, can probably relate to Mary and how she felt on that first Easter morning, our dreams in shambles, marriages on the rocks, ill health, and the loss of loved ones. We have very probably asked “Why me, Lord?” My life was going so well and now this awful darkness.
What we should perhaps understand is that it is easy to believe while everything is all sunshine and happiness, but very difficult to believe while it is still dark. It is easy to believe that God is for us when life is good, but when it goes wrong it is natural for us to feel rejected or abandoned. Anyone can walk in the sunshine; only the faithful can walk in the dark. But without the dark clouds that bring the rain, the earth would be a desert and not a garden!
I recently came across a story relating to the Battle of Waterloo. It was June the 18th, in the year 1815 and the French were under the command of Napoleon and the Allies were under the command of the Duke of Wellington. At that time the system of semaphore (something I never really mastered as a Guide), was used to convey the latest news and one of the signal stations was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral.
A message was sent late in the day of the 18th which said “WELLINGTON DEFEATED….” But at that precise moment after those two words had been sent, one of those London fogs rolled in and blocked the signal. The news of defeat quickly spread, the whole country was sad when they heard that they had lost the war, but when the fog lifted, and the remainder of the message could be read, it consisted of four words not just two – WELLINGTON DEFEATED THE ENEMY” it read, it took only two minutes for the good news to spread, sorrow turned to joy, defeat turned in to victory.
This is what happened to Mary that first Easter morning – all was not as it seemed, and figuratively speaking, the fog lifted for her when Jesus called her by name. Sorrow was turned to joy, darkness was overcome by light. Mary had a new lease of life.
It is the same for us when we stumble through periods of spiritual darkness, Jesus is there whether we can see him or not. God’s plan for our lives is still moving forward, even when we cannot see a way forward ourselves, we only need to believe!
Today we celebrate that death has been defeated, The Son of God has risen, the darkness has been rolled away just like the stone from the front of the tomb.
John the writer of our Gospel knew this; he gives us these words of hope at the very beginning of his Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it!” (John 1: 5)
The Lord has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen