Homily John 20: 1-18; Easter Sunday – April 1st, 2018

Each of the gospel writers tells the Easter story a little bit differently. But they all agree on the following: Mary Magdalene plays an important role in the discovery of the empty tomb. The stone is rolled away. There are angels. And the message is that Jesus is risen from the dead.
This is the central message of our Christian faith: that death doesn’t have the last word. That God is a God of love, a God of mercy, a God of grace, a God of life. That life has a way to prevail, even under the most challenging and seemingly hopeless circumstances. That there is hope. Always.
The gospel according to John is the only one that places the events of Easter morning before the break of dawn. ‘While it was still dark’, we hear, ‘While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed’. While it was still dark, the unbelievable happened: Jesus rose from the dead.
If you are familiar with the gospel according to John, you may know that the theme of light and darkness is woven throughout the entire gospel. In the very first chapter, we hear already: The light shines in the darkness – and the darkness did not overcome it. And this statement culminates in John’s Easter story: While it was still dark…
Now many would argue that we live in dark and rather scary times. There are many things happening in this world, there are many things happening in this country, which go against Christ’s teachings about love for neighbor, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, humility, and self-sacrifice for the sake of the greater good. And what about Christ’s teachings about compassion for our fellow human beings? We live in a society where many claim they believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, yet follow the harsh rules of social Darwinism – or just plain old Darwinism, for that matter. Why should we care for the poor, the stranger, the immigrant, the physically or mentally sick, the aging? Why should we have compassion for someone whose life seems to have nothing to do with ours?
But Jesus says, whatever you have done to one of the least of these, you have done to me.
We don’t know what the future holds for this world. Climate change, the merciless exploitation of creation, gun violence, trade wars, saber rattling, war mongering instead of diplomacy – all we can do is take step by step into this future, into the unknown, into the dark.
And many cynics might think that celebrating Easter on April Fool’s Day is actually quite fitting, that the Easter story is but a nice fairy tale, too good to be true. How can we believe the unbelievable? Or even if we believe that there is something to this amazing story of Easter, how can we have hope, how can we be joyful, how can we trust that there is new life in times like these?
But: while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene found the stone rolled away. While it was still dark, life burst forth from the tomb.
While it is still dark in this world today, we hear the voices of our children and grandchildren crying out, ‘enough is enough!’
While it is still dark, people take to the streets to protest the forces of death in this world.
While it is still dark, new venues of compassion like ‘GoFundMe’ are thriving.
While it is still dark, there are people, organizations, even governments finding new innovative ways of saving and renewing this earth’s precious resources.
While it is still dark, people are advocating for the marginalized and fighting for justice.
While it is still dark, charities and organizations like Lutheran Social Services here in the city or Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Disaster Response, among others, help people get back on their feet.
While it is still dark, there are those who dare to speak the truth as they are surrounded by liars.
While it is still dark, Christ rises and overcomes death wherever and whenever there are words spoken in love, wherever and whenever there is compassionate action.
While it is still dark, we see how life breaks through in seemingly lifeless and hopeless places. While it is still dark, there is that glimmer, that spark. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not and will not overcome it. Life has a way. It is stubborn, it is persistent, it finds new ways to break forth, out of darkness, out of death, into the light.
While it is still dark, there is the Easter story and the Easter promise. It turns you and me into Easter people, liberated, embraced by grace, filled with love, and sent into this world to be the light of the world, a light that no darkness can overcome.
For: Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Picture by Josh Felise on unsplash.com

This post is also available in: German