In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor recalls the story of a man by the name of Jacques Lusseyran, a famous resistance leader in the French underground during the 2nd World War.
As an ordinary boy, Lusseyran did all the things that boys like to do, including getting into fights at school. During one such scuffle, he fell hard against the teacher’s desk. The arm of his glasses drove into his right eye, while another part shattered the retina of his left. Lusseyran would awake in a hospital room unable to see. And at the age of 8, his life would forever change.
“The best thing his parents did for him,” Taylor writes, “was never to pity him.” Instead Lusseyran did not see himself as a poor blind boy, but as “a discoverer of a new world.” The “light outside of him moved inside; showing him things he might not have ever seen.” (Taylor, 2014).
Such is the story of Easter. God has done something so blinding that our way of seeing life will no longer be the same. And so we shout loudly the Psalm, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice. Be glad in it.” Yet, as we sit in this beautiful, historic sanctuary, with the light of day illuminating the stained glass windows, many of us cannot shake the lingering darkness; a sense that something is missing; a fear that the light inside us has gone out.
Taylor’s book teaches us that darkness is not to be feared. In fact, it’s where God has done some amazing things. For example it was in the dark that God showed Abraham the stars of his covenant promise. And in John’s gospel it is at Eastertide that God moves like a thief in the night. In the dark something is stirring. Something is alive. Or as Dorothy Bass describes it: “God is outside growing the crops even before the farmer is up, and knitting together the wound before the clinic opens.”
By the time we see the light of dawn, we are too late. We’ve missed Easter. Christ has already risen. So we must learn how to see God…even when we can’t see our own hand in front of our face. We must learn to navigate its blinding presence by using the light within us.
Mary’s Easter begins as a painful and agonizing extension of Good Friday. In what we might call a type of spiritual darkness, Mary’s life awakens at the tomb, “early . . . while it was still dark.” But she too is too late. She discovers the tomb is empty. The stone is rolled away. She is afraid. Behind the burn of salty tears and the void of light, she cannot see the body of her beloved teacher and friend. It must be gone, stolen, desecrated. And by the time the angels appear, they do not come with answers about the missing body, they only have a question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Running—and still weeping—she takes the news to the disciples. Peter and the other disciple take off immediately to see for themselves. John says the men actually race to the tomb! The other disciple gets there first, but Peter is the first to go in. They see that Jesus’ body is indeed gone. Yet there is a familiar spirit lingering in the darkness. The other disciple sees nothing but instantly recognizes God’s work and believes. There in the dark, his life is immediately transformed. John doesn’t tell us what stirred within him, only that “he believed without understanding.”
The way I see it this disciple is the church’s “faithful witness;” the person who believes without full comprehension of what it all means. We have plenty of people like this here today. They are the optimists in the bunch, the folks who see people for who they really are. They believe God’s words of promise are real, and they require no proof that eternal life trumps the fear of death.
Although these people may often be considered foolish with their boundless optimism and refusal to face the facts, the rest of us secretly cheer for them; drawing our strength from their unwavering trust in God. Their blind faith helps us see differently than what the world would have us perceive. Through their eyes, we discover Easter is a time God redefines reality. For the faithful witness, God’s mystery is easy to embrace. Yet it causes others to run away.
Peter has spent the last couple of days running away from Jesus. But now in the dark, he’s running towards him. Again, John does not tell us why. Is Peter in competition with the other disciple? Is he running back out of guilt or remorse, needing to tell Jesus he is sorry for denying him after boasting about his loyalty? I don’t know. I can only ask myself what I might have done in his situation.
There’s a chance Peter was running with hopeful expectations. After all, he had witnessed both Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus being raised from the dead. Given all the miracles he’d seen while traveling with Jesus, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this could be yet another. Either way, Peter sees what the other two see, an empty tomb, and a reality that he can no longer run away from.
I’d say Peter is the church’s ‘fearful witness,’ the one who is unsure of what he believes or is too afraid to face what he is called to do. Like some of us here today, Peter has a good sense of God’s reality…but seems afraid to fully commit. Something causes him to run away. And as the story goes, he doesn’t get too far.
Many of us have doubts, uncertainties about our faith and this thing called religion. And that’s okay. But at some point we have to commit I hope you commit to welcoming the light of Christ and seeing God’s power and glory that’s always been right in front you.
Whether we are faithful or fearful, Easter reminds us that once we see God’s power and glory come alive in the resurrected Christ, there is no turning back. We can run all we want, but not go anywhere. For there is nowhere we can run where God cannot be found. In our darkest moments, in our pain and suffering, in our weeping and sadness, in every aspect of our life just as it is in death, God is there, fully alive, lighting us up from within.
Of course, when your life has turned upside down, and you’ve watched everything you love and believed in be crucified and destroyed its easy to be cynical and walk away; especially towards something that promises to take away the pain. How do we know God is in control, transforming life around us? There is a lot of dark unknowns dictating our world today. And if you watch too much TV, you might believe God has lost control of the steering wheel. Evil no longer hides in the shadows. It’s in our face, and in our churches. So how will we know? Simple. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive. He’s calling you by your name.
Let’s returns our attention to Mary. She neither faithfully believes nor runs away. Instead she weeps. She doesn’t expect anything to happen; she simply comes to mourn the loss of life, to bid goodbye to someone who loved her unconditionally when no one else would. Now Mary’s grief has brought her back to a dark familiar place; making her unable to recognize the two angles. She even mistakes Jesus for the gardener until he calls her by name. “Mary!”
Because of their close relationship, Mary is able to see the resurrected Jesus for who he really is. Instead of a void, she found an opening in the darkness. Everything he taught her, every intimate secret they shared, every laugh, tear, heartache, or angry feeling was instantly transformed into a new reality for her. Her life had a new meaning and purpose.
I see Mary as the church’s ‘first witness;’ one who fully embraces the power of God. She’s the type of person who knowingly and willingly does what Jesus asks. I suspect most of us wish to be like Mary. She’s the first to see the empty tomb, the first to be truly transformed by it. She is the first to accept the responsibility to share this good news of Jesus’ resurrection with the world. Without Mary’s testimony, how will we know? Mary sees the light and runs to share it with the darkness.
Through Christ, God has given her a new set of eyes, a new wisdom and understanding. She is transformed. And her life will never be the same again. And she rushes to embrace it. Lusseyran speaks of his own transformation in this light: “Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward.”
His story, like John’s gospel this morning teach us that even if we have no eyes to see, God’s light is within us. Illuminating the darkest, emptiest tomb, assuring us that there is nothing beyond God’s power that cannot be repaired, redeemed, and renewed. Sara Miles writes this, “None of us can control what God does, but we can open our eyes and see what God is doing.”
Easter is our eye-opening, life changing celebration. It is the good news for everyone left weeping in the dark, or suffering from spiritual blindness, or tempted to run away from the unknown mysteries of life. Easter is our saving grace. It is our reminder that God has not given up on us, even if we are tempted to give up on God. Because Jesus Christ is alive, God has freed us to live faithfully, fearlessly and forever. And it’s up to us to share this good news. God is redeeming the world.
And so we ask, “how will they know?” By the way we live as redeemed and transformed people. They will know by the way we love our neighbors and pray for those who persecute us. By the way we show God’s mercy and grace, turning the other cheek, refusing to meet anger with anger or hate with hate. They will know by the way we refuse to speak or show violence towards another human being. And by the way we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and care for the sick, the widows and the orphans.
The things we do, or do not do, ‘unto the least of these’ we do for him who has been raised up in God’s glory. Jesus has called us to shine our light into the darkest crevices exposing all the injustices that keep people from living as God has always intended for us to live.
The whole point of Easter is about life! And living it in full glory of God whose power cannot be contained any more than death could keep Jesus captive. We proclaim Jesus is alive. He has risen indeed. And because he lives we can see tomorrow. But for now on this wonderful Easter day let us shout, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Amen.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Bible. NRSV: Psalm 118:14-24; John 20:1-18.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday. Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville: Nelson Publishing, 2015.
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossy Bass, 2010.
Stewart, Benjamin. christiancentry.org. March 31, 2013. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-02/sunday-march-31-2013 (accessed March 25, 2016).
Taylor, Barbra Brown. Learning To Walk in the Dark. New York: Harper One, 2014.