Some say it’s darkest before dawn. Even in a familiar place, the dark we can feel uncertain, dislocated, unsure, and lost with no end in sight, even terrifying. Grief, sorrow and fear are portals where darkness pours in. We can stand in the light, and yet be in darkness. Jesus says if we turn away from God, if we close off our hearts to God and others, we dwell in darkness.
Mary comes in darkness to pay respect at Jesus’ tomb. We know why she’s come – and it’s not because of Easter’s joy. Jesus is dead – for her. She arrives to see the stone sealing the tomb is moved away. It’s open. She looks in. The tomb’s empty. What is going on? In darkness, when we don’t know, we’ll likely create a story – to explain what we don’t know, like someone moved his body.
She leaves to get two others and bring them back. She tells them, “Someone’s taken the body.” They go see, arrive, look in – “Yep, he’s gone.” No big deal – they go back home and cook breakfast, leaving Mary weeping in the graveyard. That first Easter is off to a pretty lame start. They are all in the dark.
In times of heavy, thick darkness we can easily forget what we’ve learned and been told. Didn’t Jesus tell them he would suffer, die, and will be raised? Yes – but often we can’t remember or do our best thinking when we stand amidst shards of broken dreams, and the sun won’t shine.
Act Two of Easter is Mary’s. She sees two angels in the tomb, who aren’t helpful. “Why are you weeping,” they ask, as if tears shed at a tomb don’t make sense. Has she also forgotten Jesus’ words, “You will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice?” Does she forget Jesus promises to see them again, and their hearts will rejoice? We have an advantage. We know how the story ends. We know joy is ahead. But Mary doesn’t. Jesus is dead, a corpse, now missing. Our darkness falls when we forget how painful this is for Mary, for any who grieve, for our losses – family, friends – the death of her friend, her leader, one so close to God, be brings her to God with him. It’s dark, and she cannot imagine or see anything else. We know what grief and sorrow can do. That’s where she is.
Mary turns around. He must be gardener – keeper of the tombs. He, too, asks, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” “If you’ve taken him away, tell me. I’ll get him, and I’ll take care of his arrangements.” For Mary, for us – God sometimes sends light, yet all we see is darkness. We can be so deep into the darkness of our pain to notice the divine one.
Many a person thinks an empty tomb screams resurrection. For those in the dark, those unconvinced, apart from God – no. Explanations more plausible have existed from the first Easter. An emptied tomb, or casket, is so unnatural. What would we think if we leave the funeral home, come back later to accompany the body to the church, but the body is gone. Who can blame Mary and the disciples for being in the dark? Corpses don’t get up and walk away. And that’s the missing piece. Jesus has been moved. It is God who moves Jesus – out of the tomb and back onto the playing field. So let’s not spend much time trying to find what no one was there to see anyway, and if they had been, they wouldn’t understand. Easter is the meeting point of the Father’s love for the Son – to ignite eternal, everlasting life and love in those who hunger, seek and ask – like Mary.
The miracle of Easter dawns when Jesus speaks Mary’s name. Easter doesn’t come by unraveling a mystery, sifting the story until we are convinced it’s true, finding plugs to fill holes we can’t explain. Easter is not neat, tidy or convincing. Easter dawns when the risen Lord speaks our name. Easter is personal before it’s universal. We know him in the intimate encounter of beloved and lover. Jesus remains sealed in the tomb, or in hiding, or on the loose out of sight, until we ask him to be risen in us.
Many a soul comes to church on a day like this – hungering, not knowing why, not finding what satisfies this hunger. Augustine says we are restless, and we won’t find peace until Jesus is raised again, this time within us – until we rest in God. We hunger to hear again, that God may let us die, but won’t leave us that way. Some are here because the darkness of the world has such a hold, we lose our ways. Some need to hear darkness doesn’t last. We want to hear again that Easter is real and the truest story ever told. And we likely want to hold these moments – and have time stand still in the moment when we start to see the first rays of dawn.
John’s Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to announce he’s risen, or “I’ll catch up with you later.” He won’t be held here, in time – “Tell them I’m ascending to the Father.” Jesus returns to the Father to render for all time, for all people that which he descends to bring. The Word is from before the beginning – becomes flesh – dwells among us, and ascends to triumph – Jesus is right about the Father. He cannot be just confined to our understanding of time. John begins by calling us to “before time:” in the beginning was the Word, who becomes flesh, dwells among us, light breaking into darkness. He ascends because the life he’s lived of God is still alive – what seemed temporal is eternal – available here and now.
Jesus isn’t a flash in the plan – He is eternal from the beginning and ever shall be. He returns not to us, but to God, and takes us with him, like he promised – to prepare a place for us, and take us there. Only we thought that’s only when we die – but it isn’t. He returns for us to raise us into eternal life now, over and over. Where he is so are we, and where we are he is. He keeps speaking our name, until we finally hear, recognize it’s him, and slowly begin to emerge into Easter’s light.
Is all this Easter stuff really true – can we believe it? Probably – if we can move beyond our need for proof, or demand for certainty. Faith gets us there, going ahead and counting on Easter to be true – staking your life that God is making it true, and Jesus is right about God. When we count on God, Easter becomes the defining truth that shapes our lives. In and beyond our darkest hour, God waits with love and healing. John would probably have us acclaim: “Alleluia! Christ is ascended. He is ascended indeed, Alleluia!” And so are we – to live in him forever and ever. Happy Easter!