Risen: From Darkness to Light
READ: John 20.1-18
We gather here on this wonderful Easter morning, the same way folks have been gathering here at Trinity for the past 200 years.
And the way Christians have been gathering for probably 2,000 years.
To celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.
Maybe some of us begrudgingly began with the forty days of Lent.
I say some of us because I’m sure there are some who have given up something for Lent or took something on in the same period—
something that directs their time and energy straight to God, whether it’s power to not eat that chocolate bar or the courage to make visits to patients or prisoners.
Some of us, too, have partaken in the Holy Thursday service, remembering the Last Supper and the deception that would send Jesus to his death on the cross.
And of course Good Friday, in which we walked right behind Jesus, following the nearly incoherent steps of his staggering feet and the deep and long gouge in the earth from the 150-pound cross that he bore on his shoulder all the way to Golgotha.
We endured the silence of Jesus’s absence that afternoon, and awoke on Saturday with the realization slowly setting in that Jesus was gone.
And so when we come here on Easter morning,
when we greet one another,
when we hear the joyous music,
and when we shout “He Is Risen,”
I have to wonder:
Is Christ risen only in our memories, in our tradition, or is Christ really risen in our lives today?
And if so, what does that look like for us?
The dangerous question
It’s was a dangerous question for a dangerous time.
And it’s still a dangerous question in our dangerous times.
What does resurrection mean?
That’s what Jesus’s friends — his disciples — were trying to figure out, standing stunned outside the empty tomb on this morning.
Because in our reading today in John chapter 20, we see so much confusion and so much disbelief and so many questions, that it’s hard for them.
And it’s hard for us today to not simply romanticize the resurrection into to some 1-hour tradition of getting dressed up and coming to church with the whole family then getting brunch or eating a ham dinner later this afternoon.
Then going about our lives in the comfort of knowing we’re Christians simply because we acknowledged this hour again today.
I mean, this is the whole cradle of our belief as Christians.
No, this resurrection question goes much deeper.
Just as it had for the disciples.
We’re told it was still dark outside on that early Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene showed up at Jesus’s tomb to ensure he was buried properly.
The stone was rolled away, and so she ran back and told the disciples.
In the dark still, two of the disciples — one being Peter — sprinted to the tomb because they all thought someone had stolen Jesus’s body.
Peter looks inside and sees the tomb is empty. Jesus’s body is gone.
But anyone stealing a body isn’t going bother unwrapping it, let alone folding the burial cloths and placing them neatly in a pile.
So what does this mean?
The disciple who didn’t get a name in John’s Gospel, he went inside the tomb after Peter.
John tells us that “He saw and believed” in Verse 8.
In all that darkness and confusion, a light went off for him.
What did he believe?
He believed that Jesus had gone to the Father, just as Jesus had said he would.
Peter doesn’t get that.
Peter goes back to where they were all staying… With all these questions which revolved more around “Who stole Jesus’s body” rather than “Did Jesus really ascend to the Father?”
Peter was still in the dark.
And Mary doesn’t see it either — not yet.
Mary remains at the tomb, crying.
And through her tears, she musters the strength to peer inside the dark tomb, but she sees something very bright.
Verse 12: She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been. One at the head, and one at the foot.
They asked her, “Why are you crying”
She says “They’ve taken my Lord.”
She still doesn’t see, still in the dark here.
And as soon as the words fall from her mouth, Jesus is suddenly standing right behind her.
And he asks the same question that the angels did: “Woman, why are you crying?”
Through her tears, Mary doesn’t see that it’s Jesus. She thinks he’s a gardener.
He simply calls her name: “Mary” and she knows it’s Jesus.
John 10.27: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Then he says something just so awesome here beginning in Verse 17:
Don’t hold onto me, for I haven’t gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mary sees the light now.
It’s clear to her, and now she remembers what Jesus had said.
That he will return to the Father… But not just MY Father.
You see that?
“I’m going up to my Father and your Father” he says.
“to my God and your God.” he adds, just in case she missed it.
Mary’s father is Jesus’s Father.
Our Father. Our God.
We are a family.
That’s why Jesus tells her, “Go to my brothers and sisters — my brothers and sisters, the disciples — and tell them” this… (Verse 17).
Mary is a disciple, and as a disciple, she is a sister of Christ with God as her Father, too.
And because we’re all disciples of Christ — because we follow Christ — we too are brothers and sisters with Jesus and sons and daughters of God.
And because we’re God’s children, and because Jesus died for our sins and our turning away time and time again, and because Jesus rose from the dead, we, too, have risen from the dead.
We, too, have gone from the darkness of death to the light of the kingdom for all of eternity.
Not because of what we’ve done.
Not because of who we are.
Not because of the color of our skin,
Not because of our gender or sexual preference,
Not because of our political parties,
Not because of our denominations,
Not because of our heritage,
Not because of our economic status,
and not because of our discipleship.
But only because God love us so much that he would send his one and only beloved, perfect and sinless son to us
and watch as his son took all of that brokenness from us.
all of those sins that we’ve committed,
that we continue to commit
and that we will commit,
and had them nailed to that cross with his own body.
And to show us with his rising from the tomb that not only is it possible to be resurrected,
but that because we are God’s beloved sons and daughters that we too will be resurrected.
We too will be brought from the darkness of death and sin to the light of everlasting love because we are all family.
Life amid death
Some pastors feel the need on Easter morning to prove the resurrection to their congregations.
The church attendance seems to swell a bit during the holidays — Christmas and Easter…
Families are together, kids are home from college, Aunt Stella will cut you out of her will if you don’t make it to Easter service this Sunday… I know all about it…
I’m not here to prove the resurrection to you.
I’m only here to tell you that there is life — and not only after death,
but that there is life amid death.
I said just a few moments ago that times were dangerous in Jesus’s day. That is true.
But I also said that times are just as dangerous today.
We live in a world where terror, war and violence are common occurrences.
Where genocide, abject poverty and war proliferate in the shadows of our gross apathy.
Where racial privilege and supremacy undermine the words of the Bible,
and undermine Jesus’s New Commandment that he gave to us on the night he was betrayed:
“Love one another as I love you.”
Love is the light.
And there is still love in all the darkness.
Love is the only thing that makes the darkness go away.
Love is the only thing that gives us hope.
Love is the only thing that keeps us moving forward.
Because love is what we find in the resurrection.
God is still creating.
God is stil loving.
And God is still resurrecting.
With that in mind, I wonder what the pastors are preaching about in Parkland, Florida, on this Easter morning.
I’d love to hear them preach about the resurrection today.
Because — like many of you — I watched the “March for Our Lives” in Washington, D.C., last Saturday.
And like many of you, I cried during those six minutes while one of the bravest people I have ever seen — and I’ve seen a lot — stood silent holding back the tears as she counted the time it took for a gunman to kill 17 students at her school and forever alter the lives of countless others.
What Emma Gonzalez said without words in those six minutes was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in my life.
Despite where you stand on gun control, despite what your political affiliation is, and despite even if you think this 18-year-old survivor is getting too much media time,
I can’t help but hear the words “resurrection” in all of this.
That in the midst of death, there is life.
That because of the transformative power of resurrection, we can ask:
“How can God enable me to change?”
“How can God help me to be a light in all this darkness?”
“How can God roll away the stones in all the tombs of our lives and bring eternal light and hope and life and love?”
If you don’t think there is life amid death, let me introduce you to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
When Jesus rose from the tomb, it was so we could see how we must bury our old lives because our new lives have already begun!
We don’t have to live in those tombs.
We don’t have to go back and wrestle the pain of darkness.
We don’t even have to put our backs and shoulders into trying to budge that stone.
It’s done. It’s finished. It’s over.
Death is gone.
New life has begun.
And it’s not enough to simply bask in the amazement of Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday demands a response.
The disciples all would respond faithfully.
The stone may be rolled away, but we still have to get up and walk out of that tomb, out of that darkness and into the light.
And when we do, we glow with the radiance of the resurrection.
We are completely new.
And we are completely brilliant.
With the power of the resurrection, there is nothing we can not do.
Jesus knows this for our lives,
and that’s why Jesus tells us to go and love like he loves.
Because with the power of the resurrection,
we aren’t just capable of that kind of love,
we called to be that kind of love,
for all people
in all times
in all places
and in all ways.
He is risen!
Say it with me:
Christ has risen indeed.