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While It Was Still Dark

Click here to watch the children tell the Easter Story

John 20:1-18

I’ve been excited about this video project. Our children tell the Christmas story every year, but for most (if not all) of our children, this is the first time THEY have gotten to tell the Easter story. Even some parents who couldn’t convince their children to participate on screen told me the process gave them an opportunity to talk about the story with their children in a way they hadn’t done before.

Well, we’re telling the story in a way we haven’t done before, either. Usually we announce the good news all together in the sanctuary. And I say “we” because although the worship leaders may be the ones saying “Christ is risen,” you always respond “Christ is risen, indeed.” We need both the call and the response to tell the story. But here I am calling and I just have to trust that you are responding. Of course, we’re pretty used to that as Christians. We call, and we trust that God is listening. We cry out, and we trust that God cares. So if I can trust that great unknown, I can trust you!

In editing this video, I was struck so hard by the opening sentence: “Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark.” Poet Jan Richardson puts it this way: “While it was still dark. While it was still night. While she could not see. While she thought death held sway. While she grieved. While she wept.” She didn’t wait for sunrise. She didn’t wait for dawn. She didn’t wait to be able to see where she was going. She went while it was still dark—maybe because it matched her mood, maybe because she couldn’t wait any longer, maybe because she needed to check in on the work of death. Some of us do that every morning. Even before sunrise we check the news to see the numbers; we check in on the work of death. It is still dark. Some of us may feel like we are living in perpetual darkness, or at the most, twilight.

But “that’s where Easter really begins. It begins in darkness. It begins with fear, bewilderment, pain, and a profound loss of certainty.”[1] Jesus didn’t rise with the sun. Mary went while it was still dark, and the tomb was already empty. One scholar expresses it this way: “The fact is, the resurrection happened in total darkness. Sometime in the predawn hours a great mystery transpired in secret. No sunlight illuminated the event. No human being witnessed it. . . . Somehow, in an ancient tomb on a starry night, God worked in secret to bring life out of death.”[2]

And isn’t that just like God? Isn’t it just like God to work when we can’t see, to be busy when we haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on? Isn’t it just like God to bring life out of even the most hopeless of situations?

Now, you may have trouble believing that—either in Jesus’ resurrection or in a resurrection today. And I’m not talking about whether you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus or whether you believe it was Christ’s spirit who came back to the people. Believing is not really the goal. The scripture tells us that one of the disciples came and looked into the tomb and saw the empty grave and believed. But that doesn’t mean he believed Jesus had risen. It meant he believed what Mary had said: that someone had taken the body of Jesus. The very next line says “They did not yet understand.” Similarly, when Jesus appears to Mary, he doesn’t ask her about her faith. He doesn’t ask if she believes. He just calls her by name. And when she goes to tell the disciples, she doesn’t say “I believe that Jesus lives.” She talks about her experience, her relationship. “I have seen the Lord.”

The question for us today is not “Do you believe?” but “Have you seen?” Have you seen the Lord? Have you seen the risen Christ? Have you seen God, in any of God’s marvelous disguises? Have you seen God even while it is still dark?

If you can’t yet—if you’re in your home like the disciples were and you can’t see Jesus for yourself yet—don’t worry. It’s not always as easy as I make it sound. Sometimes we only get glimpses. Sometimes we only get “little bits of peek-a-boo evidence: morsels of bread dropped along a path for a child lost in the woods—the on-and-off light of a firefly guiding the way. Here. Gone. Here. Gone. Missing body. Folded grave clothes. Couple of angels. Only the gardener. Here a glimpse, there a peek.”[3] But make no mistake. The glimpses are there. The flashes of light and connection are real.

Some churches I know are waiting to celebrate Easter. They will celebrate Easter on the first Sunday we are allowed to worship together again. I say Easter comes whether we are ready or not. Easter comes whether our situation shows it or not. Easter comes, just like Christ, to call us by name, until we too can pronounce the news. Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed!

[1] Thomas, Debie. “I Have Seen the Lord.” Journey with Jesus April 2019.

[2] Ibid

[3] Honeycutt, Frank. “Ever Coming Toward Us.” The Christian Century, April 7, 2009.

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