Transformation Begins in the Darkness

I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen +

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!  It is so right that we proclaim and shout this message from the mountain tops this morning, because friends, we need Easter more this year than ever before…I need Easter this year than ever before. The funny thing is, I said the exact same statement last Easter…last Easter, in the midst of chaos and uncertainty of what the following days and weeks would hold, I needed Easter to remind me that no matter how scary things were, Jesus has defeated it—not even death gets the last word—and with Christ, we can face even the darkest of fears.

But this year, even though I know I need Easter just as much—more than last year—I need Easter for a very different reason. Last year, I carried my fear of the virus and all the unknowns and suffering that came with it into Holy Week. I carried the tens of thousands of people who had lost their lives…I carried the concerns of this congregation with me—what was going to happen to us? Will we make it as a community? What will happen to our neighbors? Are we up for the challenge? Where do we even begin? I carried all those who were struggling with new routines that seemed insane (those working full-time, providing child-care, homeschooling our children…all at the same time, those losing jobs they loved and having no idea where the money to survive would come from)…I carried all these burdens and fears and I placed them at the foot of the cross, praying that the Easter message was true—that with Christ’s resurrection, doubt, fear, and uncertainty—death—all these things have been conquered, and with the help of God there is absolutely nothing to fear.

Last year, Easter meant transforming my fear into courage, but this year, I’m not fearful…I’m angry. This year, along with all the pandemic continued to bring us—death, insecurity, and chaos, this year we are carrying even more. This year we are carrying a divided nation with a group of people who are so desperate, who feel so unheard, and who are so misled by false truths that they think terrorizing our nation’s capitol—vandalizing, choosing violence, and threatening loss of life—that this is all-acceptable behavior and think there should be no repercussions for their actions. I’m angry. This year, thanks to witnesses who are brave enough to capture events on video, we are carrying the weight of deep-seated police violence and hatred toward persons of color and being shown very clearly the sin of racism, but also carrying the fact that the majority of America can’t even admit that racism still exists or that systemic racism is even real. I’m angry. And this year, after months of reprieve, we are carrying once again the unthinkable tragedies of gun violence and loss of life that is taken with every one of these shootings—debates over what to do continue but we are still left with no real resolution. This year I’m carrying the tension of a world that is partly vaccinated but is not yet ready to back to the ways things were…to full churches with music, to vacations with loved, and to not constantly distance myself from others when all I want to be is close. This Easter, I’m not fearful. I’m angry, and I am in a dark place. But it is on Easter that we are reminded that even in the darkest of times, Jesus is already there waiting outside of that dark tomb ready to make something new—ready to resurrect us as he was resurrected.

It is no mistake that our Gospel passage from John this morning begins in darkness. As this scene begins, there is no knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection, and Mary Magdalene and the others are still very much in their darkest places. But it is in the midst of the darkness, in the very early morning, when Mary comes to find the open tomb. In seeing that the stone had been rolled away, not only was she devastated—all she wanted to do was grieve in the presence of the one who loved her and the one whom she loved—but she was also mad as hell! She was angry and she didn’t want to be alone in her despair. “Peter, John, they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and I don’t know where he is! Help!” After sprinting to the place where Jesus had been laid days before, when they arrived, they confirmed what Mary had just said. They saw the empty tomb, went in to inspect it, and then came to believe that Jesus was in fact no longer there…he was gone. “Who would have taken him? Why would someone do this?” With a sense of feeling defeated, confused, and yes, angry, the two disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stayed, even while it was still dark, she stayed, and she wept…alone. Or so she thought. In this moment, when it seemed that things were at their darkest, with no resolution in sight and all that’s left is pain and bitterness and anger, that is when a man appears and asks a caring question, “why are you weeping?” Not recognizing that it was Jesus, but mistaking him for a gardener, she says “Jesus is gone! They’ve stolen his body and I want him back. Please, sir, do you know where he is?” Jesus answered, “Mary” and nothing would ever be the same. Jesus, while he is no gardener, does what God did at the beginning of creation—he created something totally new, and it all began in darkness.

From Genesis we hear, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” God created light and it was good. And from the beginning of John’s gospel, it continues with the Word and the Word was with God, and 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.” Light overcame darkness, and hope overcame anger and fear.

Jesus, after rising from the dead, started it all over. On that first day of the week in Jerusalem, outside an empty tomb, in front of an angry, yet faithful women, in the midst of darkness, Jesus created something totally new. Where there was only anger, pain, suffering…now, with the simple utterance of a name, “Mary,” in that moment the spark of hope ignited in the heart of one human which began a series of events that would change the world forever.

This is why I need Easter…why we all need Easter.

God did not create anguish and anger and evil in this world. And God did not create us to hold on to such anger and fear. What God did create was new life out of darkness, and everything that is old, everything that must die—the bitterness, the sting of resentment, the fleeting satisfaction of judgement, and anger—all these are made new by Jesus’ resurrection. All of it, no matter what it is that is weighing us down, all of it can most certainly be transformed by the Living God—the resurrected God.

Just like how in the beginning of time light transformed the darkness, I need this Easter message this year because I desperately want my anger to be transformed into hope. And not just any hope, but the hope that gives me strength and faith to rebel against the forces of evil and do all in my power to do God’s will—to co-create, just like the gardener, the world God envisions for us. That doesn’t mean I will forget what caused the anger to begin with…quite the contrary. You see, hope is not some passive and naive feeling that if we pray hard enough, or wish something were better, that those things will be made right. No. Hope functions as the internal driving force that propels us forward toward change—the change that God wants for this world. God, at the time when the world was a formless void, did not brave darkness to separate the chaos and bring peace to the earth in order for us to live and have our being based on anger and fear. God created humanity so that we could flourish and create new life just as we had been given life.

Heaven knows, there is much work to done—just look around—but on this day, may we begin to imagine a world as God created it to be…a world where darkness and anger can be transformed, and a world where we see only the hope that Easter can bring.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!