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 Preaching John 20:1-18

 

 

There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in which a ship gets caught in a strange dark mist at sea. The sailors cannot see a thing, and they cannot find their way back to the light. "We shall never get out, never get out," moan the rowers. "We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out."1

Most of our hearers know something of that feeling, maybe especially the ones who just show up to church on Christmas and Easter. They know humanity is fumbling in the dark, uncertain of the right course, going round and round in circles.

It’s true that there have been people throughout history who have claimed that it’s getting lighter out, that the world is actually getting better and better all the time. But how many of us believe it?

We know what’s going on out there. There are lots of ways a preacher can evoke the shroud that hangs over the world. Children still starve to death every day. We cure some diseases, and others crop up to take their place. The ancient quarrels between races, religions, and land are still with us. We pollute the planet when it’s convenient, and it’s still true that everybody’s going to die. We are sailing in circles in the darkness, and it’s a good question for a preacher to ask on Easter Sunday: Will we ever get out?

While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed (20:1). Not surprisingly, she had not slept much. The past few days had been a nightmare. Her teacher was dead. She had seen it all but had been powerless to stop it.

While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. It had been dark then, too, she remembered. Oddly dark at the time he died. Dark for hours in the middle of the day. When that muted sun went down, Mary followed his body as they carried it through the streets to the burying place. Followed his body in the dark. Now, she hurries back to the tomb, her hands full of perfumes, oils, and spices. He should have a burial fit for a king, she thinks. That’s the least I can do for him now.

While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. Hadn’t they done enough? They couldn’t even leave a corpse in peace? Mary runs through the gloom to tell others (v. 2).

"Tomb raiders," she gasps to the first two disciples she meets. They run ahead of her to see for themselves.

But when Mary makes it back to the cave, the two look strange. Coming out of the sepulcher in a trance. They look right through Mary and keep on walking, and Mary, confused, begins to cry (v. 11).

While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. Her heart is pounding. Mary grabs hold of the rough stone of the tomb and peers around the entrance. Peers into the darkness where something glimmers, someone glimmers. Two someones, it turns out. Dressed in white. Sitting where Jesus should be (v. 12).

"Why are you crying?" one says.

"They took my Lord," Mary sobs, "and I can’t find him anywhere" (v. 13). She turns away in despair and sees him there in the shadows.

"Why are you crying?" he says. "Whom are you looking for here in the dark?"

"He must be the gardener," Mary thinks. "He must be."

"Please sir," Mary pleads, "please, if you have taken Jesus, tells me where he is, and I will go and get him myself" (v. 15).

While it is still dark, Mary stands face-to-face with the Son of God. She stands inches away from her Beloved, but she doesn’t recognize him.

How can this be?

Because Mary came there looking for a dead man. We can hardly blame her for that. What else could she expect?

Mary’s world was as full of darkness as ours is now. If Mary didn’t believe the world was messed up before, she certainly believed it when her Teacher was arrested, scourged, mocked, crucified, and buried. She certainly believed it the day she showed up to find the stone rolled away. Some jerk had taken the body! What else could you expect from a rotten world like this one? So she doesn’t even ask the two disciples what they saw when they looked into the tomb. She doesn’t welcome angels with good news to tell. She doesn’t know Jesus when he is standing right in front of her.

Could that be the problem we face on Easter? The problem with being a citizen of a dark world? We don’t expect much. We can live with a dead Messiah and cling to the idea that this day is really about springtime and the way seeds die and blossom again. A good day to go to church, Easter supper, and enjoy the tradition of it all.

Do we really expect anything to come out of it? Do we expect anything to change? If we went out and saw Jesus standing in the flowerbed, we’d probably think he was the gardener too! We’ve been going around and around in circles in the darkness for so long. Will we know the way out even when it’s standing right in front of us?

That’s a good question for a preacher to ask on Easter Sunday. Or maybe that is the wrong way to go about it. The promise of the gospel is not that we can see Jesus here in the dark, but that Jesus can see us (v. 16). That makes all the difference.

Angela Dienhart Hancock

Notes

1. C.S. Lewis. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1952), 158.


 

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