St Johns, Johnsonville and Holy Trinity, Ohariu
Reading: John 20:1-18
‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark….’
While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, because a few days before, her friend Jesus had been killed. With his death her hope had died. Now we see her in the garden, weeping and grieving. She has lost the most important person in her life: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ For Mary it was a double grief. Not only has her beloved friend and teacher died, but now his body has gone, she can’t even spend a few minutes with it, mourning and remembering.
There’s a reality about this story that many of us can recognise, because we know about grief and the aching sense of loss. We can feel with Mary because we’ve felt it. We’ve woken to the darkness of grief because someone we love has died or gone. We’ve woken up and known the darkness caused by despair and the loss of hope.
I think of a woman who has been told that she’s been made redundant from her job. How will she pay the mortgage and tell the children that they can’t afford the promised holiday? She knows that darkness.
I think of a man who has come from doctor having received the news that what he thought was just a bad cough, is far more serious. He now faces major surgery. He knows that darkness.
I think of a parent who has learnt that their child has been arrested and has to appear before the court. They know that darkness.
I think of a person who has heard that a friend has betrayed them and is spreading nasty rumours about them. They too know that darkness.
Perhaps you know what it is to be in the dark – and it’s to this darkness that Easter speaks – for it’s a darkness that Jesus knew on Good Friday. Two thousand years haven’t made such experiences go away. These events, these feelings, are still with us. And Easter speaks directly into these with a message of hope – a message of new life.
It’s only natural to want Easter to start in the light, but to do so would deny what Easter is. Easter isn’t Easter without first knowing the Friday. We aren’t ready to encounter Easter morning until we’ve spent time in the dark place where hope cannot be seen, for Easter is about hope in the midst of darkness. Easter is about meeting Jesus in the dark places of our lives.
While it was still dark Mary went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. She ran off to find Peter and the other disciple to tell them about how Jesus’ body had gone. The two men arrived and saw the empty tomb for themselves… and then they left. But Mary just stood outside the tomb weeping. Then she saw a couple of angels sitting in the place where Jesus should have been. She tells them, ‘They’ve taken my Lord.’ A man who she assumed was the gardener, asked her why she was weeping and who she was looking for? All that Mary wanted was for him to return Jesus’ body. That’s all. But then the man – the gardener – said her name: ‘Mary!’ Stunned, she could only say, ‘Rabbouni!’ It was probably Mary’s favourite name for her teacher, her friend, her beloved Jesus. It was such a tender moment. Her name was uttered and she recognised the man for who he was.
The mention of our names is more than just a word uttered. It can be an immensely intimate moment. When we were baptised our names were spoken as water was poured over us and we become a child of God, a sister or brother of the same Jesus that Mary met in the garden. Being named by a loved one can be a deeply emotional moment. To hear the beloved utter our name speaks of a relationship, a history, a knowing, a shared life and meaning that is unique to us. And that’s how it is between the risen Christ and us.
Easter isn’t so much about an empty tomb; or about a doctrine of the resurrection; or proving that the bones of Jesus aren’t lying somewhere in the ground. Easter is about something far deeper than all these things.
This morning, when we come to eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation, we may hear our name said. I don’t mean by the priest or lay minister, but by the risen Christ. We may hear him in the deepest part of our being – telling us that we are his beloved one, and that in the darkness he is here with us – that he has found us and will be with us always.
That’s what Mary heard, and out of her joy she went to hug Jesus. But he wouldn’t have it. ‘Do not hold on to me’, he said. This isn’t my favourite part of the story. If I were writing it I would’ve included a long tearful embrace. But not Jesus… but then, when I think about it, that’s how it needs to be. For what matters is not that we hold onto Jesus, but that we know that he will take hold of us – holding us in a love from which nothing, not even death, can separate us.
‘Do not hold on to me.’ These words speak about what resurrection will mean. To know the risen Christ and to know resurrections in our lives means that we can’t hold onto things as they were. To encounter Jesus means that things will change – that they’ll be transformed and renewed – that we’ll find new meaning and hope.
Resurrection isn’t some simplistic optimism. It’s not about finding the silver lining in the cloud. It certainly doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen again. Rather, it says to us that we no longer have to fear the darkness. Easter says to us that when things are at their very worst there is hope – there is a light that no darkness can ever overcome.
Easter is about meeting Christ in the darkness and allowing him to help us find a new beginning and a new hope. It means we can’t go back to where we used to be, or to the way things were. The way out of the darkness is only by moving ahead to something new and different. That’s the nature of resurrection. The risen Jesus leads us on. He finds us in our darkness, calls our name, and raises us to a new thing, to a new place, to a new stage on our journey.
Easter is about meeting the risen Christ and discovering him in the darkness. It’s about hearing Jesus say our name. It’s about allowing him to hold onto to us and to lead us to somewhere new – to a new beginning, a new opportunity, a new hope, a new life. Easter is about knowing a God, who in love and undying friendship takes hold of us for all time and for all eternity.
Christ is risen… and we are risen with him.
Praise and glory to you our living God. Alleluia!