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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

While It Was Still Dark

Easter Sunday


Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”


So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.


Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.


They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”


“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.


He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”


Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”


Jesus said to her, “Mary.”


She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).


Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”


Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18


At this time of year there are always movies on television about Moses and the Ten Commandments for Passover; and movies about Jesus for Easter. A family was watching a movie of the life of Jesus. Their six-year-old daughter was deeply moved by the portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Tears ran down her face as they took Him from the cross and laid Him in the tomb. And then suddenly a big smile lit up her face. She bounced up on the arm of the chair and announced, “Now comes the good part!”


That’s why we’re here today, isn’t it? To celebrate the good part of Jesus’ last days on Earth. To give thanks for His victory over sin and death. And to join our voices with millions of His followers around the world to proclaim, “Christ the Lord is risen today!”


For our celebration this morning I want to focus on these words from John’s Gospel: “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” In other words, she came to the tomb before daybreak. John was simply reporting the facts. But there’s another way we could look at these words. After all, the writers of the New Testament – as well as Jesus Himself – often used the imagery of darkness and light to signify something else. “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” Darkness could refer to a world without Christ, a world without hope, a world of sin and death, a world where God’s promises had been forgotten and God’s people felt forsaken. Darkness can be a lot more than the absence of light. Darkness is also a spiritual condition in which the presence of God is no longer felt.


“While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” On Friday, her Master had been crucified. Nails pierced His hands and His feet. A spear had been thrust into His side. Mary Magdalene had watched Him die a horrible death. And then they laid her Lord in a borrowed tomb. How could this be? This was the man who had come to redeem Israel! How could this be? She couldn’t understand. Where was God in all this? Where were the thousands of angels? Was there no one to stop this awful miscarriage of justice? The light of Mary’s world had been extinguished. “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.”


Which month do you prefer, January or April? It’s nice having longer days and shorter nights, isn’t it? Some people really suffer from depression in the absence of light. We call it the “Winter Blahs,” and it’s real. What these people need is light. “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” That darkness wasn’t only physical – it was spiritual as well.


A world completely without Christ would be a dark world indeed. Imagine our nation with its Christian hospitals and nursing homes closed. Its Christian universities, its shelters for the homeless closed. Imagine people with no basis for making moral decisions, families who never prayed for each other. Imagine a world without Handel’s “Messiah,” a world without altars where we can marry our young and bury our old. Imagine a society with no sense of spiritual purpose or foundation. Of course, some would argue that we already have such a society. How sad! “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.”


But that’s not the end of the story, is it? When she got to the tomb, she found the stone had been rolled away – and Jesus’ body was gone. Vanished! What was going on? What had they done with Him? Had His enemies come and stolen the body? She ran off to find the disciples. And when they confirmed her discovery, she was all the more confused.


So, she stood outside the tomb, crying. As she cried, she stooped over and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. They asked why she was crying. Then Jesus asked her why she was crying. She was crying because her world was dark! Maybe the sun had come up by then, we don’t know that; but we know that her world was still dark. The Master whom she loved was dead and buried! Luke tells us that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her. (Luke 8:2) He had changed her life, and He meant everything to her, and now He was gone! It was still dark for Mary Magdalene.


But then Jesus spoke her name: “Mary.” And Mary recognized Him! And the darkness for her was gone! That’s the rest of the story – that’s the good part. Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb while it was still dark, but now the Son was risen – the capital S-O-N – the Son of God – was risen!


In the midst of our darkness the Son always rises, too. There is always hope, there is always promise – because the Son of God has risen. In fact, it’s when the night is the darkest that you can best see the stars.


“While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” But the darkness was soon overcome with light, from the One who said He was the Light of the World.


Maybe that’s the message you need to hear today. Maybe for some reason you’re in darkness now: family problems; problems at school or at work; anxiety about your health; concern about your future; the loss of a loved one; whatever. Easter promises us more than the stars in our darkness. Easter promises us that in the midst of our deepest darkness, the Son rises to overcome the darkness forever. For Easter is God’s great and final proof that Good Friday worked!


“While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” But the darkness didn’t remain. The dawn broke. God’s Son had risen! So, we can shout, “Alleluia! Praise the Lord!”


Amen

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