This past week has really felt like Holy Week in more ways than one. Of course, it was Holy Week according to our Christian calendar; it was the last week of Jesus’ ministry—his passion—beginning with the Palm parade entrance into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday was about communion, washing feet and the mandate to love, as well as prayer and Jesus’ arrest. And then Friday, Jesus’ appearance before Pilate, death and burial. Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday’s hope and joy, and maybe even a hint of triumph. And then disappointment, and finally horror at Jesus’ death. That’s Holy Week.
It was another kind of Holy Week for us, wasn’t it, in BC? Sunday came with a sense that things were improving as far as the pandemic was concerned and we were going to be allowed to have up to 50 people gather for worship. And then disappointment as that health order was rescinded and even more restrictions put in place. And then the horror of discovering that the numbers are climbing alarmingly high, and the variants are wreaking havoc.
It’s appropriate, then, that the resurrection began in darkness. “Early in the morning on the first day of the week, when it was still dark,” begins John’s resurrection story. It was still dark. Mary went to the tomb and found the stone gone from the entrance. She didn’t look in; what could she have seen if it was still dark? She just saw the stone sealing the tomb had been moved. She went to get Peter and John.
When they all arrived back, was it still dark? Well, presumably the dawn had come as there was enough light to see the burial shroud on the ground and the cloth over Jesus’ face rolled up by itself. Interestingly, John immediately believed even though he didn’t understand; Peter didn’t commit himself one way or another. And Mary remained at the tomb weeping in her grief. Each visitor had a unique reaction to the empty tomb.
The resurrection happened in the darkness of a new day, before dawn, before sunlight, before the light had broken over the horizon. Was there starlight? Or moonlight? Regardless, it was night when the resurrection actually happened, whatever happened. It’s known only to God; it’s a mystery, a deep mystery.
It is poignant, though, isn’t it? The resurrection happened in the darkness of night. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Jesus, according to John, talked about those who couldn’t spiritually see as being blind—a kind of darkness. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus is the light in the world that brings light into our grief, into our uncertainty, into our doubt, into our pain, into our suffering. The light of resurrection occurred in the darkness because, as the Psalmist said in Psalm 139, “the night is the same as daylight to God.”
That may be so for God, but for us, when we experience darkness of whatever kind—physical trauma or illness, a spiritual dark night of the soul, or psychological darkness (maybe depression or anxiety or PTSD)—it’s important to see the light. The light brings peace, new life, new direction, a new sense of being, a new sense of participating in something larger than ourselves: dare we call this resurrection?
Debbie Thomas, the keeper of the website, “Journey with Jesus,” talked of a conference she attended a couple of years ago. It was led by Nadia Bolz Webber, a Lutheran Pastor in the US, and Rachel Held Evans, a post-evangelical writer. The conference in San Francisco was called, “Why Christian?” The stories shared by participants all contained struggle, pain, suffering and darkness. They spoke of how light suddenly broke through into their struggle as an experience of resurrection and a gift of hope. Resonating with these stories, Debbie Thomas wrote:
In my own life, I am finding it increasingly true that clarity, hope, and healing come when I am willing to linger in hard and barren places, places where the usual platitudes fall flat, and all easy answers prove inadequate. Jesus comes in the darkness, and sometimes it takes a long time to recognize him. He doesn’t look the way I expect him to look. He doesn’t let me cling to my old ideas. He disappears again just as I grab hold of him. But he comes, he calls my name, and in that instant, I recognize both myself and him.
As I said at the beginning of Lent, I was wanting to work on the Enneagram, an ancient psychological tool that has roots from 3000 years ago. I wanted to let go of some of my negativity and cynicism. During my own self-discovery this last little while during Lent, learning as Debbie Thomas wrote, that when I stay in the barren places long enough, a new light does begin to dawn. This dawning related to my own struggles with depression and how I deal—or don’t—with stress and the toll that this takes on my spirit and my body. I was on a couple of Zoom calls last week and both contained information about the different stresses that so many of us are feeling, whether we are working and in whatever profession we have or whether we are not working—we are all experiencing stress. But the good news is that simple things like meditation, like breathing—deep breathing from the diaphragm, singing, laughing, praying, being with others—in whatever way we can now—are all things that lessen stress. The tools we have in our own religious tradition are gifts to us, take us outside of ourselves and fill us with light. Dare we call this resurrection?
Into the darkness of struggle, light comes. That’s what John was getting at in his gospel. In the nighttime of our fears (as the hymn “We are pilgrims on a journey” goes), the Christ-light shines. Or as Julie Howard puts it in her hymn, “In the quiet curve of evening,” that many of us like:
In the mystery of my hungers,
in the silence of my rooms,
in the cloud of my unknowing, you are there.
In the empty cave of grieving,
In the desert of my dreams,
In the tunnel of my sorrow, you are there.
You are there. You are there. You are there.
And being there means also that we are called by name. The Gardener spoke in the story from John and called Mary by name. Our names, too, are spoken. Gently, insistently, calling us to life again. Mary lingered by the tomb, the place of death, but Jesus was in the Garden, a place of life; Jesus was mistaken for the Gardener and I believe that John chose that image deliberately. The Gardener is all about new life, about spring, growth and nurturing the soil and the plants. That’s a good image for Jesus—nurturer of life. In her tears, Mary didn’t recognize Jesus until… until he spoke her name. And then she saw the light, the life and the everlasting Spring in the Garden all around and the Gardener for who he truly was. That’s resurrection! Amen.