A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, April 5, 2015
John 20:1-10 GNT
Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene, one who was very close to Jesus; and those disciples who had accompanied Jesus as his inner circle of friends were plunged into darkness on that day that we now call, curiously enough, Good Friday. Shock. Disbelief. Bewilderment. Agony. Despondency. Such are some of the emotions they must have experienced on that fateful Friday and Saturday of long ago. The dark tomb where the battered body of Jesus was laid, and the dark path the women walked early that Sunday morning, were tangible reminders of the inner darkness that had shrouded their souls.
Matthew notes, in his account, that during that time while Jesus hung on the cross and up until his death, “the whole country was covered with darkness” (27:45 GNT), a statement that bespeaks of the emotional and spiritual mood as much or more than the physical reality. What had taken place was just wrong. It was nothing short of brutal, violent, unmitigated injustice and violence. Jesus had questioned and stood up to the powers that be—the religious-political domination system that oppressed and welded an unholy sword against anyone who might question or appear to be in opposition—and the Mighty Roman Empire counted Jesus among the thousands they crucified. Sometimes bad stuff happens to good people for no good reason. And when it does, it can throw us into the pit of darkness.
Being plunged into such emotional and spiritual darkness is a universal experience common to all humankind. Sooner or later, all of us find ourselves engulfed in human darkness of one sort or another.
For some families, as it was with the family of Jesus, it may be the sudden and violent death of a loved one, throwing them into the darkness of shock. A car or bike accident; a shooting, or some other form of violent death; a fall down the stairs; or as in the case week before last in the French Alps, a senseless plane crash taking lives of loved ones. In my years of ministry, I have known people who have been thrown into the darkness of many such unexpected tragedies.
Closely related is the darkness of a serious illness, devastating diagnosis, extended hospitalization, weeks or months of rehab or therapy; medical crises that upset the family routine and stability, perhaps including the loss of work by the primary family breadwinner.
Then there can be the emotional, relational darkness when the family unit begins to disintegrate, or start to unravel and come apart at the seams.
Or the jolt one gets when you go into work one day, and out of the blue you are given a cardboard box and told you have one hour to pack up all your personal belongings and turn in your keys and you are escorted out of the building.
Such is the way it often is in life. You are moving along, things seem to be going well, and out of the blue life throws you a cross that seems impossible to bear. Tragedy or trouble strikes, plunging you into an abyss of emotional or spiritual darkness.
But then when you think you cannot go on, then comes Sunday! Following the darkness of Good Friday there dawns the sun and hope of Easter Sunday! Finding an empty tomb, and hints that Jesus was alive again, was the furthermost thing from the mind of Mary as she made her way down that dark path on that Sunday morning. When Mary was at her lowest, when the darkness that engulfed her was the darkest, then came a dawn of light and a spark of hope. And sometimes that little spark of hope is all we need to find new strength, new resolve, new determination to go on. And maybe—just maybe—that is one reason that Easter Sunday—the largest church attendance Sunday of the year—has such wide appeal, even for those who don’t go to church any other Sunday of the year, because of that hint of light and spark of hope.
Few of us will ever find ourselves in Mary’s sandals, walking down a dark pathway to a burial tomb to complete the burial rites of a loved one who has died. No, I think Easter has come to mean something more for those of us who live in the 21st century. Easter, I believe, has come to embody or signify the common hope of humanity that following life’s darkness, there is the possibility of light. In the midst of our despair, there may come a reprieve. During those times when all seems lost, there is the dawn of hope that a better day will come.
One day I was at home looking out our kitchen window, as I often do. I have two birdfeeders outside our kitchen window, and I often look out to see what woodpeckers might happen to be visiting. But one day when I looked out, I spied a patch of leaves at the base of a giant oak tree in our woods where a distinct circle of sunlight, that was able to peek through the trees above, was shining. It was almost like God was shining a giant flashlight on a small patch of leaves, or holding a cosmic magnifying glass and letting the sun shine radiantly on one small circle, like we used to hold a magnifying glass as kids over a small patch of grass or leaves. And the thought that came to me was the God of creation was sending the message to stop, take notice, look.
I have sort of been thinking about Easter that way this past week. As the gospel writers tell the story, Easter is when God shined a giant, cosmic light upon a dark tomb, and upon the world in general, and said, “Stop. Take notice. Look! I am sending you a giant ray of hope for all the tragic forms of darkness that befall humanity.” For all the unexpected and tragic deaths; for all the debilitating diagnoses; for all the emotional relationship disasters; for all the unexpected work terminations and life transitions—Easter is an ever-living bearer of hope of a better day and the promise that the darkness will eventually give way to light and life!
And so today, we gather here to affirm our belief. The belief that ultimately good will overcome evil. The belief that beyond the darkness, there is light. The belief that in the midst of despair, there is still reason to hope. The belief that life and love are stronger than death!
Yes, Good Fridays—days of unexpected, uninvited, extreme darkness—will come to all of us, sooner or later. There is no way around it. But the everlasting message of Easter is that dark Friday will pass. And then comes Sunday! Amen.