There is a pall over this morning. As this story begins in John’s Gospel, “it is still dark.”
It is still dark where we wake up today. Beautiful, beloved children of God awake this morning in rooms where no light will break through. Morning brings no solace. It is still dark.
You know this. Your dear ones suffer from sickness that has no cure. Your own relationships are fragile to the point of breaking. Old hurts — personal, cultural — have not healed. Not far from the dark room where you slept, fellow human beings are hungry and enslaved.
Do we need to say more? It is still dark.
That is why this particular story, after all these years, still matters.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark.
The broken body of her friend had been pushed hastily inside two days before. There had been no time to prepare his corpse before the Sabbath came.
Mary arrived in the dark. The gospels don’t agree on all of the details of Easter morning, but one fact is consistent across the stories: Mary was there. Mary, from the Galilean town of Migdal, was one of Jesus’ disciples. In Luke 8:2, she is described as a woman who had seven demons cast out from her — a liberation that led her to follow Jesus. We don’t know how it was that Mary — nor any of the female disciples — came to be an independent woman, traveling with Jesus. But with this company of women and men who befriended Jesus, and sat at his feet to learn about the Realm of God, she is free. Jesus honors women and men. They are equals. They are family.
On Easter morning, Mary arrived first at Jesus’ tomb. According to John, she finds the great stone covering the entrance has been moved; she assumes the worst. Shocked and troubled, she runs to tell Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, who go to see the tomb for themselves. Both find it empty, except for Jesus’ burial clothes. It is too much: their friend has been tortured and executed, and now, have they also desecrated his corpse? Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple fear for their lives. They flee to their homes.
Mary knows the danger, too — she was one of the only disciples who stayed to watch Jesus die. But she returns to the tomb again, drawn by her grief. She is weeping. She peers into the tomb for the first time. She sees angels where the men saw emptiness. “Why are you crying?” they ask. “They have taken my Lord,” she says to them. Death leaves a body — where is his body?
In that very moment, Mary turns to see the form of a man whose face she does not recognize. She assumes he is the gardener. He speaks to her: “Woman, why are you crying?” “You have taken him,” Mary pleads, “Where is he?”
“Mary.” Jesus calls her by her name. He knows his own — and his own know him. “Teacher!” she replies. Death has not taken him.
“Go and tell the other disciples,” Jesus says to Mary. Mary listens to Jesus. She goes immediately and declares to disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Mary Magdalene is the first one to grasp the good news and the first one to proclaim that the power of death is defeated: Christ is Risen.
This same message is spoken to us today. Christ is Risen. It is a word of life for all who hear and receive it.
Christ is Risen. Mary’s proclamation has never been more important. Remember, it is still dark.
Journalist Nicholas Kristof has spent much of his life reporting from parts of the world where the dawn of morning brings neither light nor life. In 2010, Kristof and his partner Sheryl WuDunn, wrote one of our generation’s most important books, Half the Sky. It is the painful, true story of the brutality inflicted upon women and girls around the world, through slavery, sex trafficking, and legal and economic repression. Kristof and WuDann call the subjugation of women the most important moral challenge of our century. But more than a story about crimes against women, Half the Sky is, ultimately, a proclamation of hope. It represents an emerging consensus that freeing women and girls to live into their full humanity is the most important thing we can do to ensure the flourishing of humankind.
Not long ago, I participated in a church-based forum called “End Hunger Now.” Each of the four experts who presented had devoted their lives to discovering the underlying causes of hunger and working to end it. They focused on the central role of empowering women. If women can work, if they can keep their earnings, and if girls can receive an education, hunger will end. John Coonrod, Vice President of The Hunger Project, declared:
“Most hungry people in our world are working women who are prevented by cultural forces from benefiting from their own labor. We can and should all be feminists!”
For the sake of the world, we should all be feminists. And given what we know about the role of independent, empowered women in the community of disciples, for the sake world, we might be “Christians.”
Raymond Brown, the late, great scholar of John, writes: “In this Gospel, where light and darkness play such a role, darkness lasts until someone believes in the risen Jesus.”
Therefore no darkness, no heartbreak, no grief, no injustice can long stand where the Risen Christ is proclaimed. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The light shines in the darknessa and the darkness does not — cannot — will not overcome the light.
This morning, we awake, and it is still dark. But carried through the darkness on the lips of a woman who has seen and believed, comes a Word.
Wake up! Morning has broken, Christ is Risen!
Rev. David Lewicki has been co-pastor of the North Decatur
Photo: Darkness illustration, imy / Shutterstock.com