Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb … Then, the same day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you” – John 20:1, 19
Resurrection Sunday follows Good Friday’s crucifixion and how on Holy Saturday Jesus descended into hell, even the hell of our pains, disappointment, pandemic, fear, worry, sickness and many more. In our Gospel reading for today, St John described the miracle of Resurrection in two parts. The Risen Christ appears to Mary who first comes to the garden scene and finds the tomb empty. According to St John, “While it was still dark,” Mary “saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” Mary, despite the isolation of her grief ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciples, John, who Jesus loved. Peter and John returned and took cover in the Upper Room for fear of Jews just as many are living today in different Upper Rooms of known and unknown fears, pride, unforgiveness, hatred, fear of death, and unbelief.
The reflection is that all the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays of our lives and their lock-downs must not destroy the Resurrection Day, a day of rejoicing and reunion with our Saviour. Resurrection Day is the Lord’s Day when ‘humanistic perspective is put aside for a heavenly outlook,’ and manifestations. Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping until she stooped down and looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting. Mary in her dialogue and response to the angels was worried, according to her “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When Mary turned her focus and attention from the angels, she was able to see Jesus standing whom she wrongly assumes to be the gardener. When Jesus called her by her name, Mary recognises Jesus and ‘the isolation of grief is instantly lifted. Mary has broken her self-isolation, walking to make an essential visit to Jesus’ tomb.’
The issue is that Mary was waiting at the empty tomb and this reminds us that ONLY JESUS rose from the tomb after paying the sacrifice for our salvation. The miracle and the promise of empty tomb makes Christianity as the ONLY way of salvation in Jesus differ from any other religions. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a distinct event in history without parallel. The reflection is that, ‘the empty tomb gives us hope to pray for the time when we can fling wide our doors and share our faith again with those whom we can see and touch.’ In essence, 2000 years ago, Jesus breaks through the lockdown to mark the first Easter Day. Based on supernatural appearance, ‘Jesus came behind lockdown doors and offered the disciples peace and hope’ (John 20:19).
Stephen Skuce, superintendent, North Western District, Methodist Church in Ireland in his Easter message reminds us on the state of darkness 2000 years ago which resonates with different areas of our darkness today. With focus on the phrase in the gospel reading of today, ‘while it was still dark,’ Skuce reminds us of the fact that, ‘this Easter Sunday is a little bit darker than previous Easter’ even darker than 2019 Easter massacre in some churches in Sri Lanka. The scale of attack in Sri Lanka has never happened ‘in three decades of war.’ The tragic of first Easter which resonates with the Easter in Sri Lanka and today confirms the fact ‘while it was still dark,’ when we ‘live in the constant tension of the “already,” and the “not yet.” In the words of Parker Palmer, we live in the place define as “the tragic gap,” that is “While it was still dark,” between Easter and the fullness of time when all things will be restored in Christ.
Skuce explained that, “While it was still dark,” Mary and the other disciples did not really understand the miracle of the empty tomb. They were concerned with the body of Jesus. They did not understand Jesus’s statement and the cry on his self isolation, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The phrase, “While it was still dark” reminds us that Easter is meant to lead us to the light, but the light begins in the darkness, just as it was with Mary who could not understand or recognise Jesus until Jesus called her by her name. “While it was still dark” points us to the present global time of darkness and pandemic. Sadly, no one fully understand the way forward because ‘we have never really travelled through this road before … Previous generations, they have travelled three times of global pandemic, they have normally lived when medical science could not cure so many diseases.’
2020 Easter “While it was still dark,” especially in a real way during pandemic, we have heard so much about the darkness of death all over the seven continents. The world is “still dark” in a way we have not sensed for a while. The good news is that, ‘Easter still creeps up on us in the darkness! Easter comes for those who, like Mary, find themselves crying their eyes out some days (maybe many days).’ For Mary, “While it was still dark,” in her grief and fear, she went out of her isolation and lockdown to the tomb, the last place she knew Jesus was, though this may sound as a foolish act scientifically. The lesson is that, Mary shows us what faithfulness in the dark looks like, going to the tomb, preaching and praying, especially “while it is still dark,” when we stand with our dreams in shambles around our feet. Beloved, God still works even in the darkness of our pandemic, in our isolation, and in our lockdown. Mary did not take absence for an answer. And Easter dawned. Easter experience comes from being faithful in the dark, in the pandemic, in the lockdown, and in the isolation.