While it was still dark…
Luke 24: 1-12
A sermon by Thomas R. McKibbens
April 21, 2019
…the first day of the week, at early dawn… says the gospel of Luke. John’s gospel depicts it even earlier: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…, Mary Magdalene came stumbling toward the tomb. We can only imagine what her Saturday had been like. Surely it was not a day of rest. Rather, she likely had given vent to the fury of her grief, shaking her fist at the Romans, cursing the Sanhedrin, maybe even cursing God.
And perhaps in her painful grief, she even expressed some anger toward Jesus himself: Why did you have come to Jerusalem when you were clearly warned that it was dangerous? Why didn’t you stay up in Galilee? Why did you have to put us through this? Nevertheless, she makes her way to the tomb in the early dawn, while it was still dark.
Earlier this week, an employee was called into her supervisor’s office and told that times were difficult for the company and they had to let her go. She left her office building with a box containing all the stuff from her desk. It was broad daylight, but it was still dark…at least for her.
Earlier this week, someone heard the words, “I no longer love you; I want a divorce.” Earlier this week, someone heard a physician say, “We have found some things of concern on your x-rays.” Earlier this week, the world watched Notre Dame of Paris burn and the world grieved. For all of them, it may have been broad daylight for others, but it was still dark for them.
We cannot fully encounter Easter until we have stumbled through our darkness. While the sun is rising outside, it is still dark for many. It is hard for some people to embrace the idea of resurrection when they work long hours in a thankless job and still find themselves deeper in debt. It is hard to celebrate Easter when their child gets caught in an ugly cycle of drugs and alcohol and they feel helpless to stop it. Easter is just a word to veterans returning from war with PTSD when they realize that nothing matters to them anymore. All of these friends are stumbling along while it is still dark.
Yet here we are! Something (or Someone) beckons us to move toward the hope of Easter. Mary stumbled along with her grief, not knowing she was moving toward the first Easter. She did not expect a miracle. Love compelled her to walk through her darkness on that first Easter morning. She surely must have remembered those better days back in Galilee when Jesus was popular and full of life. How far away that must have seemed from this wretched place of death. Back in Galilee, they were full of hope and optimism. No one expected this to happen. Yet she moved through her darkness. It was an unmistakable urge; it was an impulse she could not resist; it was a magnetic pull that kept one foot moving ahead of the other through the darkness toward Love.
And so it is with every Mary of every generation, for even when logic cries out that we should not believe in resurrection and that there may be no God at all, there is that unmistakable drawing toward divine Love that brings us to this place on Easter morning. We do not expect resurrection any more than Mary did. We expect beautiful music, glad hands of greeting, old and familiar words of scripture, and maybe even a sermon that makes some sense. But we don’t expect resurrection! Resurrection is what happens in the Bible, not in our lives, not now in the 21st century!
But what if, contrary to all expectations, Love were to meet you here in this place and call you by name? If you examine the Easter story closely, you may notice that nothing seemed to pierce Mary’s darkness—not the empty tomb, not the folded grave clothes, not the words of the angels. Nothing seemed to make a difference. It was still all darkness for her. But then…she heard her name, and it was that familiar sound from the one she called Teacher. She recognized his voice, and there he was.
Resurrection made no more logical sense to her than it does to us. But there he was! The Light of the World entered her darkness, and that Light has been entering the darkness of many a life since that time. Resurrection is not confined to Bible times. Resurrection happens now! It happens all through life!
I have been a pastor long enough to know that there is heartache in every pew and that most of us suffer in silence. No one is immune to heartache, and most of us stumble along in the darkness at times. Yet I am also aware that divine Love still calls us by name. Whenever that happens, whenever we hear the divine calling our name, there is resurrection!
Unfortunately, we get all hung up over what happened in that tomb and how to explain it. Resurrection does not square with anything we know about physical human life on this earth. It is not in the realm of the explainable! That is the reason it may help to notice that no one saw resurrection happen. You can search for all the Easter stories in the Bible, and you will not find a single instance when anyone saw the resurrection happen! It was an event in the life of Jesus that was entirely between him and God. There were no witnesses to the actual resurrection event. No one could say what actually happened in that tomb because no one was there. They all arrived after the fact.
But in every story that tells of Jesus appearing to his friends, they become stronger, wiser, kinder, and more daring. Every time he appeared to them, they became more like him. For Jesus, Easter began at the moment of resurrection. But for us, Easter begins the moment Mary heard the sound of his voice. That is where the miracle of Easter happened and continues to happen—not in the mystery of the tomb, not in any rational understanding of what happened, but in the encounter with the Love that knows our name.
On a spring day not long ago the children’s choir at Goshen United Methodist Church in Piedmont, Alabama, was singing for the Palm Sunday service. As they sang, a massive tornado hit the church, killing nineteen people and injuring eighty-six others. Among the dead was Pastor Kelly Clem’s four-year-old daughter, Hannah. Over the days of Holy Week that year, Pastor Kelly performed one funeral after another, including one for her daughter. It was a dark time for the whole church. More than one member asked the pastor, “Reverend Kelly, are we having Easter this year?”
The following Sunday, Easter Day, two hundred people gathered in the front yard of the destroyed facilities at Goshen United Methodist Church. With a bandage on her head, her shoulder in a brace, and her heartbreaking with grief, Rev. Kelly made her way to the makeshift pulpit. She opened her Bible, looked into the faces of her traumatized congregation, and then read the words from Romans 8: Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And with that, every person there must have heard divine Love calling out their name. It was Easter for them!
For everyone out there whose life feels shadowed, and that is all of us some of the time and some of us all of the time, don’t get all hung up over the “how” of resurrection. No one knows the answer to that question. That is and always will be a mystery. What cinches our belief in resurrection is the fact that divine Love keeps calling our name.
Listen…and if you sense a familiar voice calling your name this morning, it may be more than your neighbor from down the street, for divine Love knows your name and is calling for you!