“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark …” (John 20:1)
As I write to you today, Holy Week and Easter are quickly approaching. Here in the office, work is going on to make certain everything is in place for us to worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. With COVID-19 nothing is as it once was. Our order of service is different. Our bulletins are different. We’re in church and we’re on the internet. And who would have ever believed we would be asking people to RSVP their intention to be present for worship. I go home every day worried about these RSVP’s. Worried that someone might want to worship with us on Easter and we’ll be full. Can you imagine what it would feel like to arrive at church on the holiest day of the year – the day we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord – and be told there’s no room in the pews? Sounds more like a Christmas story, right? Never before has worship capacity been a concern for St. John’s, yet the coronavirus dictates we take precautions to safeguard everyone who worships with us.
The 20th chapter of John begins with these words, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdelene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” For reasons that I don’t fully understand, these words have a haunting tone to them. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, …” seems to explain where we are in so many ways these days. Just pause for a second and think about this past year. Have you figured out what you missed most as the virus shut down so many things? It’s almost possible to say you’ve missed everything—restaurants, sports, visiting friends and family, worship in your church pew, vacations, and making new friends? Everything about this past year has seemed suspect. But there’s another question to ask: what have you learned? Flexibility, resilience, priorities, patience, hope, the presence of Christ in our midst? There have certainly been pro’s and con’s to the past year. When the virus arrived and everything shut down, it was certainly dark! It seemed as if we were caught in a time continuum with no end in sight.
During my time as a Chaplain in the Navy, for a brief period I was assigned to the Navy National Medical Center, a medical facility we commonly referred to as “Bethesda.” I remember many of the patients, but one patient in particular. He was young, a 19 year old Marine from Texas, who had been shot by a sniper in Afghanistan. He lived in a rotating chair/bed so they could turn him back and forth to prevent bed sores. He had no ability to communicate. He couldn’t eat food or drink fluids. There was no plan that he would ever leave the hospital to go home. Yet, his mother had moved from Texas to Bethesda to spend every day with her son. She arrived early, left late, and spent the day talking to her son and holding his hand. Nineteen years old is early in a person’s life for it to appear so dark.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, …” leaves the possibility of this story ending poorly, or well. On Good Friday, things looked dark. In fact, early on that first day of the week, things still looked dark. That is until Mary looked into the tomb and saw it was empty. And then she heard her name called out by her friend Jesus who has just conquered the power of sin, death, and the devil. And it was in that moment, when the darkness was shattered for all eternity. For in the resurrection of Christ our Lord, darkness is vanquished and the light of the risen Christ shines upon all the world, and upon every situation. No longer can darkness claim us. No longer does it matter what day of the week it may be, or our age and place in life, now the Son of God has emerged from the tomb victorious over life and death.
Sometimes, the things before us seem enormous, and we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, nor the light of Christ shining upon us. But just because we don’t, or can’t see it, does not mean it isn’t there. The cross, the empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus, all affirm for us that Christ is always present and His light will always shine on us, no matter what, where, or who. Easter tells us “it is no longer dark” in the world. As we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord this Easter Sunday, be prepared to look into the tomb and see it’s emptiness, and know – IT’S NOT DARK ANYMORE!
Alleluia, Christ Is Risen! Amen!
Pastor Butler +