“While It Was Still Dark!”
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Meditation Notes (Easter Sunday ~ April 12, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
For us, followers of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most central and monumental event of history. There is no doubt that the Easter message is the absolute center of our faith. It was the same way for the early disciples of Jesus as it has always been to the Church through its long history.
In his defense of the Doctrine of the Resurrection, Paul said in 1 Corinthians chapter 15:14 “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” No wonder that the resurrection story is recorded in all the four Gospels. John in particular notes that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, “while it was still dark.”
As you know, John’s Gospel is highly symbolic and multi-layered. For example, when Matthew, Mark, or Luke say, “It is dark”, they mean you cannot see, but when John says the same thing, he means more than the physical inability to see. For John, he means spiritual darkness. Therefore, when John tells the story of Nicodemus, for example, coming to Jesus “at night”, he means more than the physical darkness.
One of the key themes that runs through the Gospel of John is the theme of light and dark. It is introduced in the very first paragraph of the Gospel. John 1:4-5 reads, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
I don’t think it’s any accident that we have the light and dark theme appears in the resurrection story in John’s account. John tells us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark. I don’t think that John wanted to give us a mere historical rendering of when May showed up at the tomb. The timing was not the idea that had occupied John’s mind. John was concerned about the reality of spiritual darkness.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark. “While it was still dark!” I think the story of Mary Magdalene speaks in a profound way to us today. As we think about this episode on this Easter Sunday morning, I would like to make two short observation:
First: When It Is Dark, It’s Time to Pursue Jesus
Like Mary, we all have had those very dark moments in our lives. In fact, with the coronavirus pandemic, it seems like our world is in a nightmare right now. And when it’s dark and we can’t see what’s going on around us because there’s too much grief, pain, loss, and doubt, that’s the time we’re tempted to give up on God and faith. It’s easy to just pull the covers over our heads and give up.
But Mary Magdalene has something to teach us in those times. She went to the tomb while it was still dark. Despite her terrible grief and fear, Mary got up and did something. She went to the last place she knew Jesus was at. Even though it was His tomb and she knew darn well He was dead…she had watched it…she went. As useless as it may seems to us today, she needed to be where Jesus was. She knew her comfort during those dark moments is found in the Lord.
Mary shows us what faithfulness while it is still dark looks like. When our prayers just seem to hit the ceiling and fall back down on our heads, we’ve got to pray more. When reading the Bible is just so many words on a page, we’ve got to read it more. When God seems silent, we’ve got to the wisdom behind His silence. When we see our world turning upside down, we’ve got to trust the faithfulness of our heavenly Father. When you feel the thickness of darkness around you, when it is still dark, go to the tomb to have your hope renewed.
Second: Faithfulness is Always Rewarded
And then comes that time when we find out that God has been at work…even in the darkness. It wasn’t in the papers or on the evening news. Nobody saw it happen, but things are different. The tomb that we expected to stink with rotting flesh has been swept clean.
Mary is not afraid of the dark. She is determined that she will find Jesus in it. And in her faithfulness, the scene shifts. He is risen! Her tears vanish. Her prayers are answered, and she goes out in joy as the first evangelist to tell other disciples the good news of Christ’s Resurrection. While it was still dark, Jesus shows up.
He is alive! The stone is rolled away. The dawn has come. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. It cannot overcome it. It never has and never will. That kind of Easter experience comes from being faithful while it is still dark.
Friends, it is still dark in our world. It may be still dark in your own life. Dark times come to everyone. They even hit Jesus Himself. I have been a pastor long enough to know that there is a heartache on every heart and that most of us suffer in silence. No one is immune to heartache. Whether rich or poor, we all carry our own bag of rocks.
Friends, darkness is not a sign that you have no faith. Darkness is an opportunity to show your faith as Mary Magdalene did. It is time to pursue Jesus even more. It is time to hold onto Jesus. It is time to remain faithful when you cannot see … when you cannot understand. Easter happened in the dark. When everybody was depressed and thought the work of God was a sham, God was doing the greatest work of all. So get up…look at the tomb. It’s empty! He is risen! He is alive. The darkness has vanished. The stone is rolled away. Happy Easter, friends. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
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