In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor recalls the story of a man by the name of Jacques Lusseyran, a resistance fighter in the French underground during World War II. As a boy, Lusseyran got in a fight at school which left him permanently blind. For most of us, this would be a devastating blow. But as Taylor notes, for Lusseyran “The light outside of him moved inside; showing him things he might not have ever seen.”
Such is the story of Easter. God has done something so blinding in the dark night that our way of seeing life will no longer be the same. Although Lusseyran would live out the rest of his life in total darkness, something inside him helped him survive the war, including years in a German concentration camp.
Many of us have been taught to fear the darkness. There are even places in the Bible that suggest light is good and darkness is bad. But is that really accurate? Think of all the dark places where God has done some pretty amazing things. In the dark sky God makes a covenant with Abraham. In the dark ground God makes a mustard seed grow into a life-giving tree. And in a dark tomb, well, only God and Christ know exactly what happened.
As you will see from our reading today, there is something is stirring in the space between the darkness and light. Only we can’t see it. By the time dawn appears, we are too late. We’ve missed Easter. Christ has already risen. Death has already lost its sting. This is how John tells the story.
Read John 20:1-18 here
John says, “While it was still dark” Mary Magdalene makes her way to Jesus’ grave. She is all alone. There’s no shoulder to lean on, no one to hold her when she discovers the stone to his tomb has been rolled away. Behind the burn of salty tears, something inside Mary stirs. Even in the dark she can sense the tomb is empty. And instinctively she goes into the darkness to tell the disciples what she discovered.
When Peter and the other disciple, hear her news they run to the tomb! If it was dark outside, it’s even darker inside this hole. But not even the void of light can hide God’s truth. Jesus’ body is gone. Only his burial clothes remain.
Even if he couldn’t see his own hand in front of his face, the nameless disciple instantly recognizes God’s work and believes. We are not told what stirred within him, only that “he believed without understanding.”
This nameless disciple is the church’s first “faithful witness.” That is a person who believes what God is capable of doing without full comprehension of what it all means. While we know dead bodies don’t just get up and walk away. We weren’t there so we have no tangible proof. A faithful witness understands God’s power enough to live in that space between mystery and proof. Their boundless optimism and unwavering trust in God helps us keep our faith in perspective. Even if it can cause one to run away.
Which bring us to Peter, who has spent the last couple of days running from Jesus. But now in this dark morning, he runs towards him. Was he running out of guilt or remorse? Maybe he feels the need to apologize for denying Jesus after boasting about his loyalty?
I like to think Peter was running with hopeful expectations. Hadn’t he witnessed Jesus raising others from the dead? Whatever the reason, Peter gets there and discovers Mary was right. Jesus is gone. He is too late. So, Peter does what he does best. He runs and hides.
If the other disciple is the church’s first faithful witness, then Peter is the church’s first “fearful witness.” A fearful witness is the kind of person who sees what God can do and runs away afraid of what it might mean to them. I understand this person all too well. I ran from what God was calling me to do for 30 years. Trust me, it’s easier to run to God than it is to run away from God.
Many of us have doubts, uncertainties about life, our faith, and the mysteries of it all. Many of us have run away from believing anything, including this thing called religion. And that's okay. Whether we run towards Jesus or away from him, Easter remains intact. The tomb is still empty. Christ is alive.
Today we stand in this space between darkness and light. Some of us have come faithfully. Others fearfully. In this space we find our Lord, in all his living glory, calling each one of by name.
Which takes us back to Mary. Although she doesn’t quite comprehend what God is doing, she doesn’t run away. Instead, she stands outside the tomb and weeps. The one who loved her unconditionally is dead. Now someone has salted her wounds by robbing his grave.
Mary is not just standing in the dark, she’s feeling deep darkness inside her. Mary’s grief is so overwhelming, she can’t see the light within her. It’s like any glimmer of hope she might have had has been snuffed out.
If you’ve ever experienced the crippling pain of depression, then you can understand why Mary is unable to recognize the two angles who try to comfort her. That pain is blinding. So much so that Mary mistakes her beloved friend for the gardener. That is, until Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!” Immediately, that faint light within her begins to flicker. It’s just enough to allow Mary to see God’s power at work.
She barely understands what it all means, but her instinct isn’t to run. Instead, she wants to cling to Jesus and never let him go. But here’s the thing: Jesus needs her to go and tell others the good news. And Mary does it. She sees the light and runs to share it with the darkness.
This is why I believe Mary is the church’s first “faithful and fearless witness.” She is the first to see the empty tomb. And the first to be transformed by it. She’s the first to see our resurrected Lord. And the first to share this good news with the world.
The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. God declares victory over death. But without Mary’s testimony, how will we know? Likewise, without our testimony, our storyline in God’s redemptive love, how will others come to know what God is capable of doing?
As the first faithful and fearless witness, we are called to follow Mary’s lead. We are called to share the good news by shinning the light of Christ in all the ways we love one another.
In his own book, “And There Was Light”, Lusseyran wrote “Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward.” Even if we have no eyes to see, God’s light is within us all – guiding us out into the world to share the good news to those left weeping in the dark.
Even if we can’t understand what God does, we can open our eyes and see what God is doing. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else.”
Thus, Easter is also an invitation to embrace and trust the dark, not fear or run away from it. It’s a time to see what God is doing, right here and right now, between the darkness and light, and find the light within.
In our darkest nights, in our heartbreak and suffering, in our fear and anxieties, throughout life and beyond death, Christ’s light shines. It’s always with us, because it’s always inside us.
Jesus said it like this, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. He’s calling us by name and sending us out to shine his light brightly.
Five years ago, we started this church unsure of where we were going. Today we stand Anamesa. It’s here, in the space between the darkness of the world and Christ’s bright light, we are given a choice. We can embrace the mystery. We can run away. Or we can follow Mary’s example, and do both.
Christ is the spark that ignites and illuminates our soul. It is he who sends us rushing out into the world…to shine our own sacred light in the ways we love God, love others and serve both. While it’s important we know the Easter story, it’s more important for us to go out and live it. Christ is alive. And so are we. To borrow from St. Paul, “It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
Because of this mysterious truth, we can all live like Christ – faithfully, fearlessly, and forever – in the fullness of God’s glory and steadfast love.
With the light of Christ guiding our way, we can love the unloveable, forgive the unforgivable, give to those who may not deserve it.
With the light of Christ guiding our way, we can shine God’s love and grace for all to see, so that they too might believe and be called “children of the light.”
With the light of Christ guiding our way, we can run out into the world shouting our hallelujahs.
The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Based on an original sermon How Will They Know? given on March 27, 2016.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday. Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville: Nelson Publishing, 2015.
Lusseyran, Jacques. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran. New York: Parabola, 1998
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossy Bass, 2010.
Stewart, Benjamin. christiancentry.org. March 31, 2013. (accessed March 25, 2016).
Taylor, Barbra Brown. Learning To Walk in the Dark. New York: Harper One, 2015.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”