Easter Day: Darkness and Light

Darkness and light are two important themes throughout John’s Gospel. From the very first chapter until the last, John talks a lot about darkness and light. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and what came into being from him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. The Gospel goes on to tell us that John the Baptist was sent as a witness to the light. Then we hear about Nicodemus, who comes in darkness, a darkness of the hour that reflects the darkness of his unknowing, searching for light in Jesus. Throughout the Gospel we hear Jesus talk a lot about darkness and light, even at one point saying, I am the light.

This past week, during Holy Week, we heard about Judas betraying Jesus after that supper. The Gospel is very clear to say it happened at night, in the dark, to emphasize that it is not just the darkness of the hour, but the darkness of the act. And when Jesus was on that cross, darkness covered the land. John’s is a highly metaphorical Gospel; John does not say things without purpose. When John uses words like darkness and light, it is with great purpose, great deeper meaning within those words. So when we heard today’s Gospel reading, Mary went down to the tomb, when it was still dark, we should pay attention to those words. It is not just the darkness of the hour that she is going to the tomb, it is also the darkness of her soul, the darkness of her grief and sorrow, the darkness of her confusion. How did this happen? How was it her Lord and Master, who she loved so dearly, who was drawing such great crowds to hear his teaching, to be fed by him, who had been chanting and singing in the streets, Hosanna, Hosanna, as they laid their palms before him, how was it those very crowds had turned on him and pushed for his execution? How had it turned from such lightness to such darkness?

Mary goes down to the tomb this morning, and she is just as confused when the tomb is empty. She gets some other disciples to see if they can help make sense of it, but they can’t either. So she is alone there, in her darkness, the darkness of the hour and the darkness of her soul when suddenly, in the midst of that darkness, the light of Christ shines when she encounters the risen Lord standing before her. That risen Lord tells her to go tell the others, to go share the light that has come into the world.

What I find really interesting about this part of the story is that the darkness doesn’t fully go away. It does not say that the sun rose, it does not say that Jesus vanquished darkness from this world for all time. In fact, the next story we have in the Gospel, the next encounter with the risen Lord takes place that same night. We’ll hear this story next week. It will take place in the evening when it is getting dark again. In the midst of that darkness in the locked room, the disciples will again encounter the risen Lord. The following week, again in the evening, the risen Lord comes to them in their darkness. Finally, by the Sea of Galilee, in the darkness of the early morning, the risen Lord appears to them.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. But the light does not fully overcome the darkness, either. There is still darkness in this world, the darkness that was there in creation when God first said Let there be light, remains. Through this story, through Christ’s resurrection, through to this day there is still much darkness in this world. Each of us experience darkness in different ways: in grief, in sorrow; in pain, tragedy, and illness; in shame, abuse, and trauma. There is so much darkness in this world. The promise to us is not that the darkness will go away, but that there is a light shining in the midst of it, the light of our risen Lord who came to Mary and the disciples, and comes to us; a light to give us hope in the midst of the darkness that we experience in this world.

That is the Easter message. Not the destruction of darkness, but a light on our path as we move through the darkness in life. It is an invitation to go and tell others about this light, to be the light, to share the light in the darkness that you experience in this world, and the darkness that others experience in this world.

Today on this Easter morning, we are bathing in light to remind us that when we leave here this day, we are sent with Mary to go share the good news of this light to a world that is full of darkness.