Easter Sunday – SERMON ONLY – While it was still dark (John 20.1-18)

Sermon: While it was still dark
Easter Sunday: Sunday 12 April 2020
John 20.1-18
Rev. Daniel Mossfield
(Crookwell Uniting Church)

On the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

I don’t know that I have ever been so desperate for an Easter Sunday to arrive as I have this year.

I’m not sure why. Maybe I had hoped that all of this was a bad dream from which Easter Sunday would shake me awake. Perhaps, from my deep desire for things to be ‘back to normal’, somewhere, deep inside, I had thought that Easter would fundamentally change things. Possibly I was just so desperate for the comfort of familiarity: well-known hymns and readings that I could almost quote by heart.

But this Easter is not ‘normal’, no matter how hard I might pretend.

To share one expression that I have seen floating around the internet, ‘this is the Lentiest Lent that I have ever Lented.’

And today, I am feeling the absence and the loss.

Today, I am missing my extended family, with whom we normally gather every Easter weekend for food and celebration and even to drive each other a little bit crazy.

Today, I am missing my community of faith. I am missing you all. I am missing the sense of fellowship and belonging. I am missing hearing you sing the hymns with me (for they just aren’t the same without you).

And, today, if I’m honest, I might even be missing God. Oh, yes, God is everywhere. I know. How often have you heard it said? But when you have been used to worshipping God in a particular way and connecting with God through a certain set of practices, their absence can feel like someone has stolen God; like someone has killed God, and buried him in a deep rocky abyss of despair.

[And], 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.”

I wonder what it was Mary was hoping to discover that first Easter. I wonder why she had come to the tomb.

And, I know what you are thinking: wasn’t she coming to properly prepare Jesus body for burial?

Well, in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s account, yes.

But, in John’s version: no. For, you see the secret disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already prepared Jesus body for burial on the Friday. Indeed, Nicodemus had brought an abundant, expensive and wasteful amount of burial spices – it is part of Nicodemus’ potential redemption arc.

So, why had Mary come?

What was she hoping to find?

Perhaps like us she had hoped the loss of Friday was a bad dream.

Perhaps out of her love and devotion for Jesus she had desired to keep vigil at his tomb.

Maybe she had no rational explanation, but, unable to sleep, found the strong pull of grief moving her feet back towards what she had lost.

But whatever it was she had hoped to find when she got there, she didn’t.

Her plans were rudely interrupted by the living, risen Jesus, who had other ideas.

When I imagine that first Easter, I always imagine a sunrise.

I imagine the light of the new day shining through the gaps in the leaves, as the trees begin to cast shadows on the ground.

I can feel the warmth of the sun’s rays gently radiating off the disciples’ cheeks as they come to see what has happened. And, I can feel that same warmth beginning to glow inside me.

Yet, in the desire for the dawn of Easter Sunday morning to break, it is easy to miss what has been happening in the dark.

There is an old saying that ‘nothing good ever happens after 2am.’ Except, that’s precisely where God’s good news comes.

Because, Resurrection is not a daylight activity.

It happens in the ‘witching hours’, when most of the world is overcome by exhaustion, despair and sleep.

It comes to those who are utterly broken, grieving the loss of hope for a future they had long desired.

It arrives in ways that are easy to miss when life has been turned upside down.

But, this is the good news this Easter Sunday: that the Risen Christ comes to us while it is still dark.

… For those of us who spend their entire lives trying to remain in the safety and sentimentality that comes with affluence and privilege;
for those of us who try desperately to avoid even admitting the reality of darkness and grief;
for those of us who want to celebrate Easter Sunday without experiencing the utter terror of Friday: the resurrection’s true power is easily missed.

For, when the floodlights of your denial are shining brightly, the quiet, fluttering dance of the new light of Christ can seem insignificant or unreal.

How attractive it is to pretend things are other than they are.

How seductive, to try and cling to what used to be and dream about the return to some ‘golden age’ in the past, that never really existed.

But resurrection isn’t resurrection, without death and loss and grief.

And, to paraphrase Dave Hollis, In the rush to return to normal, it is worth considering which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.

COVID-19 has come with significant cost and loss.

But it has also brought about some amazing signs of newness and resurrection: neighbours looking out for one another; a deep appreciation for nurses, teachers, supermarket workers and others who have often been undervalued; and, governments letting go of the old adage that you have to ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ and instead providing for the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community.

I celebrated as I read in the paper about hotels in Western Australia providing free accommodation to the homeless residents of Perth so they can self-isolate during the crisis.

And, then I wondered, why the hell couldn’t we have done that before.

When resurrection comes – when it truly comes, and the risen Christ so rudely interrupts our plans – it comes with both a promise and a demand on our lives.

God isn’t done yet. God is still weaving hope out of the chaos, and unfolding life among us. The best is yet to come.

And so, Jesus says to us, as he said to Mary all those years ago ‘do not hold onto me.’ Do not cling to what was. For if you do, you might just miss the best part, and the reality that what is gained is far greater than what was lost.

So, let us live into God’s promised future this Easter Sunday, even while it is still dark. Amen.


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