From Dark to Dawn to Light

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter Sunday
April 17, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary : Today's reading tells us that Mary Magdalene awakened on Easter morning "while it was still dark." As the text goes on to explain what she does next, the reader learns that her actions and those of Peter and John are a template for how we often journey from dark to dawn to the full light of the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. This is where we are today: in the light of Easter morning!

Easter is perhaps the only Sunday that reminds us why we're Christians -- and not something else.

But for early disciples, it meant no such thing.

Jesus had told them on several occasions to expect a resurrection.1 Jesus might as well have been speaking another language, for all they knew. You know how if you're in a foreign country and the server asks you a question, and you nod your head and say, "Si, si!" but you don't have the foggiest idea of what she's talking about? And then she brings you a bowl of ox blood soup or something. The disciples listen to Jesus talking about how the Son of Man must die, but then he will rise on the third day, and they stare at him wide-eyed and nod in unison and say, "Si, si." They had no idea, "for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead" as our reading for today says.

Sort of like most of us today, isn't it? We're so accustomed to hearing the same assertions, the same claims, the same story, to which we've always said, "Si, si," that we assume we faultlessly understand the real meaning of the Resurrection. But we don't. We hear but we do not hear, just as the disciples heard but did not understand. This explains why immediately following Jesus' execution, the disciples decided to go back to what they were really good at doing: fishing -- for fish, not people. We do this, too. Although we have a vague sense that Easter is important, we've heard the story before. So as soon as the Easter church service is over, we go back to making a living, making ends meet and -- especially in this pandemic -- making sure we're ready to face any scenario, apocalyptic or otherwise.

So, the disciples on Sunday morning were sound asleep -- as they were so frequently when something momentous was happening, like the Transfiguration and Jesus' dark night of the soul in Gethsemane. Some of the women followers of Jesus, however, were awake. They didn't understand Jesus' resurrection talk either, but they also felt that he deserved a good interment, and one of them, Mary Magdalene, headed for Jesus' tomb "while it was still dark."

In the dark

"While it was still dark" means Mary left for the tomb before first light or dawn. Today, on April 17, sunrise in Jerusalem is not until 6:09 a.m. local time. First light is at least 30 minutes prior to sunrise, so perhaps Mary headed for the garden tomb about 5 a.m.

The question is: "Why?" Why did Mary Magdalene get up "while it was still dark"? The men had no intention of setting their alarms for 5 a.m. They had no desire to visit the tomb at all. Anointing the body, taking care of the graveclothes and so on, well, this was women's work. And Jesus was dead. No rush. Why get up in the dark dead of night to visit the tomb of a dead man? Besides, tomorrow they were headed north, and soon would be on the Sea of Tiberius hoping to catch a boatload of tilapia.

Actually, our text does not tell us why Mary crawled out of bed at such an early hour to make her way to a cemetery. It wasn't to make a spot of tea. The Bible just says that she did. She probably had not thought this out too rationally (for instance, after arriving at the tomb, how was she going to roll back the stone to get inside?). She didn't know what she was going to do when she arrived. She just had to go back, perhaps to grieve, to cry ... to anoint the body if possible and to process everything that had happened.

Perhaps she couldn't sleep because of all those horrific images of the crucifixion. This was the execution of the man who had cast demons out of her, the man she had supported financially and with whom she had traveled for two to three years, and the bloody scenes were still flashing through her brain like a deranged and mocking Powerpoint slideshow.2

Honestly, she got up in the dark because she was in the dark. She was clueless. She was at that point in her life like many of us sometimes, when she just didn't know how all the pieces of her life would come together again. She was completely in the dark as to how she could have misjudged this man-god so badly! Perhaps she was a fool.

Of course, the disciples were in the dark as well. But they were asleep. Mary could not sleep. Somehow, she recognized her despair and despondency -- her profound disappointment, perhaps. She was beginning to think that her "faith has been in vain."3 So in verse 1, Mary is literally and metaphorically in the dark. The idea that Jesus might be alive did not cross her mind.

She gets up and goes back to the scene, which is precisely where we are today. We are at the scene. Perhaps, we too, feel that we are in the dark. We don't understand. We don't believe. We have a feeling of being played the fool.

But again, Easter Sunday is the one Sunday of the year that reminds us why we are Christians and not just souls without hope.

We're in the dark. Call it the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of unbelief, the darkness of indifference, the darkness of despair.

It's still darkness, and we're in it.

But dawn is coming.

In the dawn

Mary made it to the tomb in the dark. And then the first crack of light appeared. She saw that the stone had been rolled away! This is startling, because with her own eyes she had seen Joseph of Arimathea roll the stone to a dead stop in front of the tomb.

This is amazing! So God raised Jesus from the dead at some point during the night! How fantastic, yet subtly understated!

Mary, however, had a different conclusion: the body was gone and she had no idea who took the body and no notion as to its present whereabouts.

Had she been able to call 911 she would have. Had she been ab