Easter Message by Rev Jenny Carter
April 1, 2018
(Based on John 20”1-18)
Easter Sunday. The very first one. While it was still dark. While it was still dark, and on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She had been with Jesus all the way. She had seen lives made new, communities and bodies healed, and eyes opened. She had heard the complaining of the disciples and the stinging criticisms of religious leaders. She saw how the crowds adored him, and how the rulers hated him, and how those who lusted after power sought to kill him. She stood under the cross as those who wished him dead, got their wish, and now her heart was broken. It was all over now. Perhaps she thought that the least she could do now was to care for the body of her friend. And so, early that first day, while it was still dark, while Mary’s heart and soul were heavy and dark with grief, she makes her way to the graveyard.
Mary has that empty and forlorn feeling that we can all identify with. The feeling that is perhaps like when a favoured political candidate loses the election, and someone must go back and pack up the office. The feeling that comes when a marriage ends and a wedding ring is taken off and put in a drawer, and the house is desperately quiet. The feeling that comes when someone we love has died, and those of us who loved them, must pack up their belongings. While it was still dark…
We all have those days, those times in our lives when we stand with our dreams in shambles around our feet. Times when we ask ourselves, what on earth are we supposed to do now? Times where it seems no matter how brightly the sun might be shining outside, we don’t think we shall ever see the light again.
That is how Mary was feeling. She was feeling like the light would never find her again. So she goes to the graveyard, sees that the stone has been rolled away, panics and runs to get Peter and the other disciple, and they too run to the graveyard to see for themselves. This story from John tells us that Peter goes in to the tomb first, he saw that it was empty. The other disciple goes in and our story says, “He believed” – but we don’t really know what it is they believed because John is quick to point out that they did not yet understand all that Jesus had taught them.
Yet Mary, caught between grief and anger and confusion, stays. She stays, and when the angels ask her why she is weeping, she tells them. When the person she mistakes for the gardener asks her why she is weeping and who she is looking for, she tells him. While it was still dark… And then, in the midst of her darkness, she hears her name, and she knows the voice. In an instant, in the midst of her grief and her sadness, light. She sees the one for whom she has been looking for. Risen. Changed. Yet alive and with her. She runs and tells the others about the incredible encounter with the risen Christ that she has just had. And the light continues to dispel the darkness.
We so often struggle with what Easter means. We struggle with understanding the word “resurrection” and we struggle at times, with this story. What is it trying to tell us, we wonder?
Well it is telling us that even in the darkest of times, God is at work. It’s easy to believe in the sunlight of our lives, but very difficult to believe in the darkness of them. So it is reminding us to trust that even when the worst happens, new life can come from it. It’s telling us that God always has the last word – and even in the darkest times – times of death and destruction – God’s last word is always a “yes” to life. It’s reminding us that while everyone can walk in the sunshine, it is only those with faith that can walk in the dark – because we know that the darkness is not a forever thing. We know that a new life can come from even the worst of circumstances.
Resurrection happened to Jesus, but it happened for us. The resurrection is about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pulls us out giving us new life in ways both big and dramatic, and small and lovely. The risen Christ, the One who brings life abundant, is here and among us, and among all of creation. There is no hole so deep that we cannot get out of it. There is always light and always a way through and a way out. That is what resurrection means – it means there is life for us, even after the worst thing imaginable has happened.
The author of John’s gospel raises metaphor to an art form. He tells a story, and it is so laden with hidden images and meanings it is really easy to miss the point of his story. In this morning’s story, he wants us to think of darkness as those places we all have of not seeing, not understanding, and not being able to, for whatever reason, believe. Sometimes our darkness is caused by grief or sadness, like it was for Mary. Sometimes it is our intellect that keeps us from understanding, like it was for Peter in our story. And sometimes, the darkness is manifested in a faith that questions nothing – like it did for the disciple Jesus loved – who “believed” even though he knew not what it was he believed.
We all have our own personal darkness we struggle with, and we all have our own ways of coming to an understanding of faith. Some of us are like Mary, seemingly swallowed up in our struggles. Some of us are like Peter, swallowed up by our sense that if we can’t see it, can’t count it, or measure it, we can’t believe it. And perhaps, some of us are like the beloved disciple, and simply accept everything at face value – and where the miraculous blurs with the mundane.
As the story unfolds, we know that eventually all of the apostles came to a point where they could say they believed. Yet it is no small thing that Mary got to that point first. In so many ways she is a wonderful model of what coming to a point of faith, a point of believing, is all about. She was persistent. She was persistent in her asking of questions. Even when confronted by angels and strange gardeners who never gave her a direct answer to anything she asked of them. She was persistent in her labour of love, and was not going to forget about the reason she came to the cemetery in the first place. And, perhaps most importantly, she was persistent in her grieving. She didn’t try to take a short cut through it, she didn’t minimize her loss, and she didn’t try to forget all that had happened. She persisted. She persisted in working through the worst thing that she had ever experienced, and because of that, she saw the light and witnessed the resurrection and gift of new life, before the others.
In other words, Mary took a leap and then a step in faith. The leap is trusting that God is right in front of us, and is seeking to reach in and pull us out of whatever grave we have dug for ourselves. She took the leap when she heard her name. Then came the step, and all of the other steps of faith she would have made in her life. Each step being a new way of living, and a new way of believing, as she sought to live her life in the light and love of the risen one.
The resurrection invites us to take a leap of faith. Which is no more, and no less than, trusting that God/Christ is always right beside us – always offering us a way out, always offering us a new beginning. No matter the darkness we find ourselves in, we hold on to that. We trust. We trust that whatever this present darkness is, it shall not last, and it shall not have the last word in our life.
After the leap, then a step. And then another one, and then another one. Each step a different, new way, of living our lives. You see Christianity is really a lifestyle. It’s a way of living in the world that is really quite simple, non-violent, shared, communal and loving. However we have turned it into a capital “R” religion, with all of the stuff that goes along with that, and have forgotten that a step in faith is about a change in lifestyle.
So, first we leap, and then we step – that is how we escape whatever darkness has captured us. The change required of us might be simple, but it isn’t always easy. So may each one of us be persistent, like Mary was persistent, so that we too might hear our name, see the light, and believe.