It was still dark that Sunday morning. An appropriate way for John to begin his account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the things to appreciate about the Gospel of John it is that word choice means everything. A word like “dark” or “darkness” carries with it a meaning that is deeper than what it may seem.
On one hand, it was literally dark in Jerusalem and at the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea and Niccodemus laid Jesus following his death on the cross three days earlier. The morning sun had not broken through the darkness of the night as a new week began. Darkness filled the skies much like the darkness that greeted us, this morning, as we gathered for this sunrise worship.
On the other hand, there was a darkness that filled the hearts of Jesus’ supporters who remained in Jerusalem following the events of that fateful Passover. They were in grief because of his gruesome death on Friday afternoon. Remember these same supporters came to Jerusalem believing Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel in their presence. Even though Jesus predicted his own passion, they were still shocked by the events that led to his death. On this Sunday morning, their hearts were still darkened by the pain of Jesus’ passing. Now they wondered what would happen to them, if they were wrong to follow Jesus, and where could they go for help and safety.
It is in these expressions of darkness, both physical and emotional, that Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. John focuses only on her in his account in John 20, but we know that she was not alone. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tells us that a small group of women had purchased spices and went to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus for his burial. These same women were at Golgotha when Jesus died and, now, they go to the tomb to finish the work that was likely rushed on Friday, so as not to interfere with the Sabbath.
As this group of women, led by Mary, arrived at the tomb they notice something was not as they expected. The tomb’s stone – this giant rock that was rolled in front of the tomb to keep it sealed – was rolled away. Based on their actions, we can assume that Mary and the women run up and take a look into the tomb and saw that something was not as they expected. The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there.
This is the Good News we celebrate today. The tomb was found empty. Darkness does not win. Death does not win. The cross is not the end of the story, because the resurrection happened. A light is shining into the world. That light is the Risen Lord!
We who gather, this morning, in the morning’s darkness know what took place at the tomb. We stand on the shoulders of witnesses who have gone before us who have told us what they saw, through their hearts, in the tomb. The thing though is that Mary is not entirely sure what she saw in the moment. Sure, she will have an experience later in John where she is able to see with her eyes the Risen Lord, but for now she is concerned that something is wrong.
Mary’s initial thought is not of a resurrection, because even though Jesus said this would be the case in the moments around the tomb it would be hard to call upon that word, but of a tomb robbing. In those days, it was not uncommon for tomb raiders to come in and steal the body from a tomb. She thinks someone has come and taken Jesus’ body, whether it was someone trying to profit from Jesus’ death or someone who wanted to prevent the followers of Jesus from finding him.
It is the message of concern she tells Peter and John, the Beloved Disciple, when she catches up to them. We do not know, at this point, if Mary has interacted with the angel or if in the period after seeing the angel this is all she could say. What we do know is that something in Mary’s words alarmed Peter and John and caused them to leave their hideout and take the risky venture to the tomb. Keep in mind that disciples of Jesus were at risk by the religious leaders, so it was with great danger that they ran to the tomb to investigate Mary’s story.
John tells us what happens when they arrived. John peeks in, first, and sees that the linens used to wrap a body were lying in the tomb. Peter arrives, next, and goes in and sees more than that. He notices that the head scarf folded and placed away from the linen. Almost as if to say that they were no longer needed.
Peter and John interact with the scene that bears witness that darkness is breaking and a light is dawning. We are told that John believes that something has changed. That a new light has come upon the world. The light is the new hope that entered the world at the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The resurrection is the history-changing moment and announcement that darkness will no longer cloud the skies and hearts of the people. God is doing something new and is doing it through the hope that is established with the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord and is alive.
Jesus’ resurrection announces a hope that is established through the authentication of all that Jesus said and did. Without the resurrection everything Jesus did would be pointless. Everything that Jesus taught would have no power behind them. The resurrection announces that all Jesus did was centered upon the establishment of hope in the place of darkness. It confirms all that Jesus said about what it means to be in a loving and hope-filled relationship with the Father.
It is the good news that the world desperately needed. Good News that death does not win. Good news that sin does not win. Good news that darkness is not permanent. Hope has come into the world. A new light has dawned that shines as a beacon out of the tomb and into the hearts of those who believe that Jesus is both Savior and Lord. This is good news that the world needed then and it needs today.
As I think back upon the past year, between today and our last Easter celebration, we have all experienced the darkness that the world still tries to cling to. We’ve seen the darkness in the advancement of ISIS and the persecution of Christians. We’ve seen the darkness in the ongoing violence in Iraq and in places like the Ukraine. We’ve seen the darkness in our own streets, whether it be in towns such as Ferguson or in our own communities that are affected by a crippling addiction to heroin and other issues.
Yet, as we have experienced the darkness in the world we also know that there are places of darkness in our own lives. Places where we are hurting. Places where we are struggling. Places where we have fears or doubts. Places where we feel that there is no hope in the world. Darkness can overcome our own life, but darkness does not win.
In all of these places of darkness, the resurrection comes to us as a promise and an announcement that what does win is the hope of Christ that comes shinning as a light in the midst of darkness. That the light that broke into the world on Christmas morning has broken into the world again through the resurrection. It is the announcement of a hope that is available, through the life of Christ, in every darkness that is ever imaginable.
The resurrection calls us to see whatever darkness exists in the world and in our lives is not the final story. It is not our final story. Jesus is the final and only story. Jesus is our story. His life, hope, love, and resurrection is the final story into whatever darkness that overwhelms us, whether it is the darkness that hinders the world or whether it is the darkness that prevents us from seeing how great the Father truly loves us.
Today, we will celebrate the good news of the Resurrection in many ways. We will gather in our churches today to reflect more on what the resurrection means for us today. We will gather around the table with friends and family to partake in meals of celebration. We may even find a few Easter Eggs hidden in the ground.
No matter what is on your agenda for today, please do not miss an opportunity to reflect upon the great news that light that has broken into not only the world’s darkness, but the places of our brokenness and hurts.
Much like Mary, Peter, and John, we must determine what the empty tomb means for us and what the light that breaks through the darkness shares into our life. My hope is that we will see that no matter what darkness exists in our life, the resurrection is the good news that Jesus’ light is breaking in and bringing forth hope. That is the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Darkness is gone. Jesus’ hope has come.
May that be the good news that gives us a new life and hope today and always!