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Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
It’s a simple line. So simple, in fact, that we are likely to take no note of it, but for Saint John it mustn’t be missed: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark. . . .
We’re so accustomed to spring time and daybreak for Easter, bunnies and eggs and daffodils, that we are likely to miss the profundity of John’s message, a message that begins not with the bright morning sun but in the depths of night, at what scholars tell us is about 3 am, “when it was still dark.”
Dust off for a moment our biblical memories and we are likely recall a similar story we heard just a few months ago: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Judas betrays Jesus at night. Peter denies Jesus at night. Throughout his account, in fact, John is playing with darkness and light. And so, it should come as no surprise that Mary comes to the tomb in the depths of night.
We all know something of the night, of darkness, don’t we? Even as children, the dark was a harrowing place be. Alone in our beds, with all the lights turned out, that darkness seemed to come alive. Each sound a scratch of a monster’s claw or some frightful beast lurking, waiting. From our earliest years, we come to know that the darkness can be a frightening place, not necessarily because of what we bring to it, but because of the monsters that lie in await.
As we get older, however, the darkness grows matures us. At some point, the darkness outside is less threatening, of course. We become accustomed to a room void of light and those eerie sounds that kept us wrapped up in the safety of our blankets, are now no more than the sounds of an aging house or blowing wind. And yet, the darkness remains, only now, it has found its way into us. No longer do we merely fear a darkness “out there” but one that is within us. As we mature, we come to know the darkness that we have caused, the hurt we’ve inflicted, the betrayals not merely of God, but even more of our neighbors and dearest loved ones. There is no way to enter into life, let alone maturity, without causing pain to another, but unlike our infantile ignorance, get to a certain point in life and we become aware of the pain we cause ourselves, our loved one, and strangers around us.
As we get older still, another reality of the dark begins to set in. In the darkness we are alone. If you’ve been in a truly pitch-black room you know what I mean. Someone can be mere inches from your face and yet they are not there. In such darkness even our bodies seem to fade away invisible to our eye. As we age, the reality of this darkness grows as the reality of our aloneness becomes increasingly real. Even our dearest loves and closest friends cannot feel our humiliation at the loss of a job or a house or a marriage, cannot bear for us the pain that we must bear, cannot understand the shame and loss we experience as our bodies age and fail us. Even our dearest loves and closest friends cannot share the fear we face at the prospect of being alone in our suffering and at our impending deaths.
Whatever our age, we know something about darkness. At the very least, we know the terror it causes and the isolation it brings. Even millennia ago, Saint John knew this as well.
And so he proclaims for us a most profound truth – God doesn’t meet us only in the light of our lives, but, even more, in those dark places where terror and loneliness live. John knows that we need God, that we desperately need God, not when all is well, when the lights are on and friends are at our door, but in that dark place, that place where we dread to go.
Like the Christmas proclamation a few months ago, the Easter message isn’t meant for springtime of life when all is sunny and bright, but for winter when coldness and frost have set in; and like that silent night in which Christ himself was born, Jesus’ quietly calls out to Mary not when the sun had risen high into the sky, but in the dark of night when the morning dawn was still far off. You see, it’s in the dark that we need light; it’s in the darkness when we need God and one another. When coldness and darkness have set in, when we can see no path forward and no hands to help; that’s when we need God’s light to shine most brightly. And that’s when God comes again.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark. . . . that’s when Peter and John come to know the truth of Jesus life and love.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark. . . . that’s when Jesus calls out to Mary.
Early on the first day of the week, while it is still dark. . . . that’s when Jesus calls out to you, “Friend, I am here.”