While It Was Still Dark (Easter)

“While It Was Still Dark”

April 12, 2020 (Easter)

Rev. Deborah Dail

Denbigh United Presbyterian Church

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Sermon

I suspect Mary Magdalene had tossed and turned all night. Her sleep was punctuated by nightmares which replayed the events of Good Friday . . . screams, anguish, death.

The following day, Saturday, had been eerily quiet as they all waited . . . waited for what, they really weren’t sure. They had placed themselves in voluntary quarantine from the danger outside, lest they be exposed to the horrors Jesus experienced – horrors they might experience just for being his followers. They stayed home. They watched and waited.

For Mary Magdalene, there was no reason to stay in bed that Sunday morning. Trying to sleep was futile. So, while it was dark, she went to the tomb where Jesus’ bruised, bloody, dead body was taken.

John doesn’t say why Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, only that she went while it was still dark. She expected to see the tomb covered by the stone that had been placed there by those who saw to Jesus’ burial. She expected to have some quiet time to grieve and to perhaps find closure.

Imagine her shock and despair, when she arrived to find the stone moved away. Her immediate assumption is that “they” (whoever they might be) took the body of Jesus from his final resting place. Things keep going from bad to worse. Or do they?

Mary Magdalene runs to get Peter and John. She starts a conspiracy theory in telling them that “they have taken him out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Peter and John run to the tomb. They look in, and the first disciple to reach the tomb views things differently. He believes. Apparently, he believes not that Jesus’ body has been stolen. Instead, he seems to recall what Jesus taught them – that he would rise again. He believes. Peter and John went back home. Was a bit of light breaking through the dawn or was it still dark?

Mary Magdalene is not convinced of anything more than a stolen body. She stays at the tomb, weeping. She asks questions of two angels about the body’s whereabouts. Then, in a case of mistaken identity, she sees a man she presumes to be the gardener, and asserts that he may be the culprit . . . the body thief. She appeals to him for the return of Jesus’ body . . . no questions asked.

“Mary,” the supposed gardener says. “Mary.” Upon hearing her name, she recognizes that this One standing with her is her Lord, her friend, her teacher.

“Go tell the others, Mary. Go tell them that, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” She went and told the others “I have seen the Lord.” Was light breaking through or was it still dark?

The first Easter began while it was still dark. Jesus was raised from the dead while it was still dark . . . before Mary Magdalene showed up at the tomb. While it was still dark, Jesus was already alive . . . raised from the dead.

And it is the same today. While it is still dark, Jesus is alive. Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus has conquered darkness and death.

We are in dark times, and this is not the first time for us to find ourselves individually or collectively in dark times. We are, some of us, tossing and turning in our beds. For some sleep is elusive. Some are fearful of COVID-19, some are enduring it, fighting it, treating it, dying from it. Some are in the dark place of anxiety about lost jobs, no income, businesses failing, uncertainty about the future. Some who are working outside the home tending to the needs of others are frightened and in dark places physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We are isolated, quarantined, socially distanced . . . it is a dark time.

Yet, even while it is still dark Easter comes. Just as Jesus rose from the dead while it was still dark, so also, he brings us new life, hope, and light right into this present darkness. His light is prevailing even in this darkness. His hope is prevailing in this darkness. He is offering new life and love in this darkness. He is victorious today, as he was on that first Easter morning. For while it was still dark, Jesus was raised from the dead.

During this time of a different sort of Easter, many of us have thought about Dr. Seuss’s book about another holiday. You’ll recall The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The Grinch hated Christmas and everything about it while the Whos down in Whoville loved Christmas and everything about it. The Grinch attempted to steal Christmas by taking away all the trappings of Christmas – gifts, stockings, Christmas food, trees, and ornaments. But Christmas came anyway in the hearts of the Whos down in Whoville. Nothing could stop their fellowship and their singing. Christmas came anyway.

Easter can’t be stolen. It wasn’t stolen that first Easter Sunday. It hasn’t been stolen this year. Jesus was raised from the tomb while it was still dark. Jesus was alive in the darkness of old and He is alive in the darkness of today – any darkness we are facing.

Recently, amid the coronavirus, someone said to me: “Jesus is winning.” Yes. Perhaps more accurately, Jesus has won. Jesus is victorious over darkness and death. Jesus has conquered the grave by doing the most loving thing he could do for the world in laying down his life. He offers us life abundant and life eternal . . . even while it is still dark.

Jesus Christ is risen today . . . and every day. Easter cannot be stolen or stopped. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!