Sunrise Sermon: Mary Comes in Darkness

woman in darkness

John 20:1-18

Mary comes to the tomb while it is still dark.

Had she slept at all in the three days since Jesus execution? Had she been able to cry herself into an exhausted, dreamless sleep…or had she lain in bed…unmoving, as if dead herself…staring at the ceiling seeing nothing but those final, terrible hours…playing over and over again and again in her head…

Were her dry eyes burning, was her head throbbing, was she feeling nauseous and dizzy? Had she tried to eat something, only to discover that she couldn’t swallow even the smallest morsel of food because of the sorrowful lump of tears-still-to-come stuck in her throat.

Had she tried to erase those terrible images by trying to remember the last time they had all gathered, the last time Jesus had spoken to her, looked lovingly at her, that last meal they had all shared. Was she trying desperately to remember the sound of his voice, the sound of his laughter, his smile, his touch…

Was she counting how many seconds, and minutes, and hours it had been since he had breathed his last breath? Was she wondering how she could live through even one more minute with the pain of the grief that she was carrying? Was it as heavy as his cross had been?

Did the pain pierce her heart in the way that the sword had pierced his side? Was it her unbearable grief and emptiness that finally sent her running out into the night, running to his tomb, looking for all that she thought was left of Jesus?

Like Mary, haven’t most of us experienced some kind of grief or loss? Pain is certainly a part of being human, and haven’t we each had our share? For some of you…more than your share? Losing a job? Watching your children go astray?

Getting bad news from the doctor? Watching parents deteriorate or slip away into dementia? Watching loved ones succumb to depression or become consumed by addiction?

Haven’t we all had days when we have stood with our dreams in shambles feeling like our lives were over wondering how we could go on? Haven’t we all stood in darkness that had nothing to do with whether or not the sun was shining?

Mary comes to the tomb in darkness, shrouded in grief. The discovery of the empty tomb means nothing more to her than someone has stolen Jesus body. She sees the stone rolled away and can only think that she has lost Jesus again…lost him once and for all.

She runs to tell Peter and another, unnamed disciple, she cries, “They have taken our Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Now the two men set out running in the dark, but Peter lags behind. Perhaps his denials of knowing Jesus are still ringing in his ears and his steps are weighed down by his guilt and shame.

Is he afraid of what he might have to face in the dark bleakness of that night, as he now runs to Jesus tomb?

He isn’t the first to arrive, but Peter is the first one to dare to enter the tomb. It is the unnamed disciple who enters next and he “sees and believes…” Although “as yet, they do not understand the scripture…that Jesus must rise from the dead.”

You notice there are no hallelujahs, no cries of “Christ is Risen!” There is only confusion…grief…an empty tomb. And a Mystery…

The men return to their homes and leave Mary alone once again, weeping outside the tomb. She finally looks inside, and she sees two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying.

I can’t imagine the men wouldn’t have noticed two angels. So they must be there just for her…or does Mary see them because she isn’t looking for Jesus with her tear-swollen eyes, but with her aching and broken heart.

The angels ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” I always imagine that they are smiling and that they ask her very gently and kindly, because they already know and understand the joy of the empty tomb.

They are in on the big surprise, and they want to help her “see” the tomb for what it truly is…not an ending…but a new beginning.

Mary answers, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She turns away from them, perhaps to begin running again…running somewhere…running no where…trying to outrun everything that has happened….

She glimpses a man she thinks is the gardener…in the darkness with tear-filled eyes, searching for Jesus stolen body, is it any surprise she doesn’t recognize him? Do we always recognize Jesus when we unexpectedly bump into him in the dark?

Jesus says, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Mary cries out, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away!”

And then Jesus says, “Mary.” The good shepherd calls her by name. And Mary knows him for who he is.

Jesus says, “Mary.” And Mary knows him and she wraps herself around him.

Jesus gently says, “Do not cling to me…go to the others and let them know that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” The greatest gift that Jesus gives us is the assurance that God belongs to each of us and that we all belong to God.

“In the first creation story, God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden, from life to the knowledge and burden of death. But in God’s new creation, Jesus sends Mary out of the Garden rejoicing. He sends her from the certainty of death into the promise of new life.

She comes to the garden empty and she leaves filled with purpose. She is sent out to tell everyone that darkness has not overcome the Word made flesh.

She has seen her beloved Rabbi, and she now understands what she has seen. She has come face to face with Mystery. She has come face to face with God’s love in the flesh and in the Spirit.

She has come face to face with Resurrection and she can now rejoice and proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” And in that proclamation is the promise of renewed life through Christ’s message of hope, faith, truth, peace, and love.

Mary comes to the tomb in darkness and she brings us along so that we, too, can discover that Jesus waits there for each of us. She brings us along so that we, too, can come face to face with Mystery. Face to face with God’s love reflected in all those around us. Face to face with the Spirit always present with us.

It’s hard for us to see when we are lost in the dark. We don’t always recognize Jesus in our midst. But the good news of Easter, is that even when we can’t see him, Jesus is present with us. Even in our darkest days, God is working on our behalf even if we don’t know it or recognize it or understand it.

Mary comes looking for Jesus in darkness but leaves filled with light. The light of joy and hope and love. Mary brings us face to face with the promise of Resurrection and new life.

So on this Easter day, we join in spirit with Mary as together we proclaim, “We have seen the risen Lord!” Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!

Let us pray, O great light of all lights, in us you shine, fragile lamps you made to shed your light, lanterns you burnished with love! To you we say, “All glory!” To you we say, “All praise!” We join together with all your creation and give thanks! Amen

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