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Hope, Comfort, Courage

John 20:1-18 (CEB)
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.”
Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place.

Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.

Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

April 16, 2017
John 20:1-18
“Hope, Comfort, Courage”

Today’s Easter story from the Gospel of John begins in darkness…”Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…,” the story starts off saying.

Literally speaking, it was still dark outside when Mary Magdelene went to the tomb. Figuratively speaking, it was Mary’s heart and soul that was filled with darkness.

John’s story begins in the dark…the absence of light.

This is just one of the discrepancies among the gospel writers when it comes to the story of Easter…Matthew says the women got to the tomb “at dawn on the first day of the week.” Mark says it was “just after sunrise;” and Luke says it was “very early in the morning.” But John says, “…while it was still dark.”

These differences may just be the perspective of the different Gospel writers and may simply be God’s way of reminding us that there is always more than one way of looking at things.

But perspective is important and on Easter it matters what our perspective is.

It’s like the young boy who desperately wanted contact lenses instead of his glasses. His parents finally consented to contacts, but continually reminded him about being careful when he was playing sports so as not to lose one of the expensive lenses.
One day, he was playing basketball with his friends in his driveway, and he lost a contact. So, the game stopped and everyone started looking for it, but no luck; they couldn’t find the contact lens anywhere.

Just then the boy’s mother came out of the house and the boy said, “Mom, I lost one of my contact lenses. We’ve looked and looked, but we can’t find it anywhere.”

The mother got down on her hands and knees and crawled around the driveway, and in less than a minute, she announced, “Here it is!”
The boy and his friends were amazed. “How did you do that?” they asked. “We looked and looked and couldn’t find it.”

“Simple,” she said. “You were looking for a small piece of plastic. I was looking for $150!”

It matters what our perspective is.
One person thinks of darkness and thinks the sun isn’t up yet. Another person thinks of darkness and thinks of pain and sorrow.
Over the last three days we have heard and remembered the stories of the darkest days in the life of Jesus…it has been three days filled with betrayal, suffering, death, sadness and grief.

The sadness and grief continued at the beginning of our Easter story today from the Gospel of John. Mary stood outside the tomb weeping in the darkness of the early hour of the day and the darkness of her soul.

I know that there are some of you here today that know exactly how that feels.
Most of us know what it feels like to weep or to be with another person who is weeping to the very depth of their being.

I was given a piece of advice years ago that I have hung onto. The person said to me, “When you enter into the world of someone else’s suffering; enter with your mouth shut.” In other words, just be present with the other person.

After the two disciples in our story see that Jesus is not in the tomb, they go home. But Mary stays at the site of her loss and grief and cries. Mary may have felt alone in her grief, but she was not…angels were present with her, but they did not speak until she looked into the tomb. It was when Mary looked into the tomb and faced her darkness that she saw the two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been.

When the angels ask, “Why are you crying?” Mary names her darkness saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him.”

Easter always begins in darkness. Are you able to name and face your darkness today?

Perhaps on this Easter morning your life seems to have more than its share of darkness.

Maybe the darkness is there because of some deep felt grief that does not seem to go away.
Maybe it’s a broken relationship with a spouse, friend or another person around whom you have built your life.
Maybe it’s the struggle to care for an aging parent, or a difficult child or grandchild.
Maybe it’s the diagnosis of a long-term illness and treatment.
Maybe it’s the pressing weight of mental illness.
Maybe the darkness is that place where you just can’t bring yourself to offer or receive forgiveness.
Maybe it’s a struggle with an addiction, or disappointment, or anger, or hurt, or a seemingly immovable injustice.
Maybe it’s the unemployment or the job layoff that has gone on longer than you ever thought it would.

Maybe it’s the sometimes subtle, sometimes systemic expression of racism, or classism, or some other ‘ism,’ or homophobia that reveals the human capacity for cruelty and harm.

Maybe it’s the news of more death at the hands of extremists and terrorists.

Maybe the darkness feels like it is sealing in the pain and fear and bitterness you have felt in your life for so long.

Or, maybe it’s the sadness that comes with the death of a loved one and now you find yourself on a journey of grief.

The reality is, that just because it’s Easter, it does not mean the dark and difficult places in our lives will suddenly go away. But Easter does mean we get the chance to be reminded once again of who God is…we get the chance to see what hope and comfort and courage can look like.

In Author Barbara Brown Taylor’s book titled “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” she says, “Most people do not know what they mean by ‘darkness’ except that they want to stay out of it.”

She says, “Even though no one’s list is exactly like anyone else’s, when we hear the word ‘darkness’ we begin to associate words like night, nightmares, ghosts, graveyards, death, evil, danger, depression, loss and fear.

She says, “Fear is the main thing. Almost everyone is afraid of being afraid.”

Even though logic and our culture teach us to avoid darkness either literally or figuratively, Barbara Brown Tayler concludes that she needs darkness as much as she needs light.

Mary arrived at the tomb in darkness and most likely expected only more darkness and grief. But then Easter became real for her…There in the darkness of her life, she was surprised by the light of Easter.

Easter became real for her not when she saw an empty tomb, but when the experience of God’s living presence became personal for her.
When the Risen Christ called Mary’s name, it became a personal experience…then it became real, authentic, powerful and life-changing. At that moment, it was as if hope and comfort and courage came together to shine light into her very heart and soul and give her new life.

This new life is what we celebrate every time we gather in worship. This new life that we call Resurrection…that we call Easter…is the hope to which we cling and the promise on which we stand.

You see, the Easter story doesn’t change…it’s the same story, year after year, after year. The story never changes, but we do…our perspective changes…some years we bring our darkness with us. And that’s Easter. The hope and light of Easter makes no meaningful sense apart from the reality of darkness.

It’s about choosing to believe even in our most difficult times, that the light of God’s presence is stronger than any darkness we will ever face. It’s about choosing to believe that the tomb of Jesus is not the end…that death does not have the last word and that darkness will always give way to light.

Easter always begins in darkness. But Easter says, ‘The story can be trusted…the light of dawn will come.’

God provides resurrection. Resurrection is God’s answer to large stones that seal tombs. Offering hope, comfort, courage and new life is God’s standard operating procedure in the face of tremendous odds, disappointment, grief, despair and death.

Resurrection is the offering of something new. God did not raise Jesus to his old life; it was an entirely new life. That is why Mary did not recognize Jesus at first. She was expecting a resurrection of the old. But resurrection provides hope and new life when we can recognize it.

The Easter story is about God offering something new. And this hope and new life of Easter is not based on whether things around us will get better or worse…The new life and hope of Easter is built on the promise that whatever happens, God is with us…at all times, in all places.
Each year Easter tells us that there is simply more to life than what we are experiencing or what we see happening around us. Easter reminds us to stay hopeful and tells us that with resurrection comes a new understanding of ourselves and of God.

The good news of Easter is that we live on the resurrection side of the cross, which means the presence of the Living God has overcome death and darkness with life and light and hope and we are set free to be Easter people!

May it be so today and always.

Christ has Risen! Christ has Risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.