Posts Tagged ‘Easter during the pandemic’

While It Is Still Dark

A Meditation on John 20:1-18

Sunday, April 12, 2020

photo of moon during night

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Mary Magdalene and all those who loved Jesus were trying to find their way through the darkest time they had ever experienced.  They had watched helplessly as the state—urged on by the religious authorities—tortured Jesus to death.

They had pinned all their hopes on Jesus.  They saw him ushering in the kingdom of God, where things are the way they should be, with peace, healing and wellbeing for all.  The kingdom of love and light.  They had experienced it.  Mary Magdalene had experience great healing.

And now this.  Horror!

It was still pitch dark as Mary made her way to the grave.  She couldn’t wait even until sunrise.  She must go now.  But when Mary got there, the stone covering the entrance had been removed, and there was nothing inside but the burial wrappings.  Jesus was gone!  Somebody must have stolen the body—as if the crucifixion weren’t enough.  Mary grew even more distressed.

There is much to distress us in this present darkness.  The illness that has brought ordinary life to a stop is only part of the suffering.  We mourn the loss of life and livelihoods and more.  This week unemployment rose to levels our country has not seen since the Great Depression that began in 1929.  This crisis is making it impossible to ignore the fact that vast numbers of Americans live close to the edge even in so-called normal times.

Bad behavior on the part of some is adding to the distress: distressing news of people trying to exploit the situation to enrich themselves, and of people not even bothering to put their used masks and gloves into the trash, just dropping them in the grocery store parking lot.  Yuck!

Before all this started, many people were already struggling in so many ways, and the pandemic makes things even harder.

Mary Magdalene was so upset she just couldn’t stop crying.  She really couldn’t see anything clearly in the gloom, much less recognize Jesus in the shadows.

With deep respect in his voice, Jesus said, “Woman, why are you crying?  Whom are you looking for?”

She thought he must be the gardener.  “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where, and I will take him away.”

“Mary,” he said. The risen Christ reached out to her in the gloom. She knew that voice!  “Teacher,” she exclaimed.

Realization is like a light.  Recognition is like a light.  The Lord was near, and he was alive!

Think of what this meant!  It meant that while it was still dark the stone was moved.  While it was still dark, God had raised Jesus Christ to new life.  Long before daybreak God was already up and working to overcome the horror of Friday.  God’s work of resurrection got underway while it was still dark.  God overcame death while it was still night. 

Christ was alive before dawn, before those who loved him were able to see him and trust that he truly was there.  In the shadows, he was ready to reach out to Mary and all the rest again.

Surely the God of resurrection is already at work in this present darkness.  Surely the God of light is already working for goodness, love, and life despite the shadows of gloom and despair.  God’s power goes to work even while it is still dark.

In some Christian traditions the first Easter service takes place at midnight, long before sunrise.  People gather outside and kindle a fire.  Then they light a large, long-burning Easter candle from the fire, light their own small candles, and process into the darkened church.  There they maintain a vigil in the night.  They retell the story of God’s faithfulness through all the ages, and they start rejoicing before the light of dawn arrives.

That is because they know God is already at work to bring new life even before it can be seen.  They anticipate it.  They long for it.  They trust that it will come.  They trust that they will hear Jesus’ voice again.  They keep the faith.

Friends, let us keep the Easter vigil in this present darkness.  Thanks be to God for the beautiful flickers of light that we can see, where we can glimpse God’s great faithfulness, mercy, and love in the middle of all this.  Those who keep their candles lit, so to speak, join in the good God is doing.  Thanks be to God for that voice we know and love so well, the living Christ, who calls each one of us by name, inviting us to announce his good news.  Inviting us to live his good news.

Beloved, keep the Easter vigil, until our Savior takes us to the place where there is no more darkness, no more night, and it will be bright Easter forever.  AMEN.

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