While It Was Still Dark
In simple words, John gives us an important observation about the morning of the resurrection. “…It was still dark…” As always with John the words operate on two levels. Yes, it was before dawn so it was dark. John, however, was not referring to the limited number of lumens peering over the horizon. The time of day is only a servant to his greater point. The world was dark not because the sun had yet to peer over the horizon. John is not trying to describe the ordinary.
The world was dark because the power of evil had if just for a moment, won the day or so it seemed. The Light of the World was extinguished, and, for all Mary Magdalene knew, that fact remained unchanged. She most likely suspected it to forever remain unchanged. Mary was beside herself in grief. Her eyes, swollen by hours of wailing, were unable to see clearly. Her wailing had drowned out both extraordinary and familiar voices.
Mary and Jesus
She watched in disbelieving horror as the soldiers tied Jesus’ arms to the cross, and drove spikes into his feet and hands. I suspect she gasped as they dropped the base of the cross into the hole in the ground. The cruel irony of the charge against Jesus, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” perhaps induced physical nausea, but without a doubt was noxious to her soul. Even still, she stayed.
She refused to leave as Jesus endured the most demeaning, painful execution in the vast Roman arsenal of cruelty. If killing someone was the only point, there were easier and quicker ways to do it. No, crucifixion was a masterpiece of ghoulish glee. Done in public so onlookers could gawk, crucifixions took hours, sometimes days, for the victim to suffocate from their own body weight. If the soldiers got bored waiting for the victim to die, they would shatter his legs by hammering them with an iron club. No act of mercy, this resulted in agonizing pain, shock, and suffocation. The horror of the cross was so vile that it merited unique descriptors for its pain. The English adjective for pain “excruciating” is derivative from crucifixion.
Onlookers with any sense of dignity would look away from such depravity. What one sees, one cannot unsee. A crucifixion was better left unseen. Those with hate in their souls, however, could find disturbing delight in watching a bloodied man scream in pain as he suffocated to death. Some twisted souls would mock the victim. “Let’s see if Elijah will help Him,” cried some religious leaders.
As sickening as it was to experience, she stayed, she watched, she wept. Perhaps she stayed to comfort Jesus, to remind Him he was still loved when almost everyone else had abandoned him. Perhaps she stayed to comfort herself thinking that being with Him even during the crucifixion would be better for her. For whatever reason, she stayed. She was there when He cried to the heavens. She was there when breathed his last.
At The Tomb
Mary was aware of the borrowed tomb and the stone over its entrance. She was also aware of the power of darkness when she went to the tomb. There, at the place where darkness seemed most powerful, where Jesus’ pierced and broken body was, Mary went in the deepest of grief.
Most likely she went to the tomb for the same kinds of reasons we go to the graveyard. When we need to feel close to a loved one who has died, we go to the cemetery. We take a few minutes to find the headstone among the hundreds of others. We brush off the pine needles, read our loved one’s name, and we talk. It is strange if you think about it. Our loved ones are not there. No, they are gone. Somehow, though, we feel connected to those whom we have lost when we go to their grave. The flowers we put on the tombstone are not for them, they are for us. Somehow adorning the ugliness of death with flowers makes us feel at peace.
Perhaps connection and peace were what Mary had in mind. She wanted to honor Jesus in the only way she knew how. She wanted to be near Him in the only way she could, and if that required facing a world full of darkness, so be it.
Where is Jesus?
Something happened. The body was gone. Mary’s immediate thought was not of a resurrected Savior. No, as a first-century Jew, she most likely believed Jesus’ resurrection, like every other resurrection, would be on the last day, the Yom YHWH, the Day of the LORD. No, her first instinct was to believe that those who hated Jesus so much had found a way to inflict one more indignity on Him. They stole His body, she reasoned. Then a flurry of activity begins. She runs to the Disciples. Peter and John run to the tomb. Mary returns to the tomb as well, wailing uncontrollably.
“Why are you weeping?” The angels said to her. She did not recognize them as such. Another voice calls out to her, “Why are you weeping?” Unable to recognize Jesus’ voice through her tears, she asks about the body. No doubt she would have remained frozen in grief, maybe forever if there had been no intervention. Then came the one word that changed everything, “Mary.”
That one word is what all of us who live in the darkness long to hear. We long for Jesus to call our name, to remind us we are loved, to remind us the darkness is of limited duration, and to remind us as surely as the sun will come over the horizon God’s light will overwhelm the darkness.
God knows you and loves you. God has already called your name. “I have called you by name; you are mine…” the prophet writes. The very fact you long for God is a testament to His call over you.
What we have that Mary could not imagine her darkness was the knowledge of victory. Although the darkness seems omnipresent, God has already defeated it. The Lord had already conquered every power of evil through the resurrection.
When It Seems Dark
Mary’s actions, though, are a model of how to act when you cannot see God’s victory. She went to where she felt close to Jesus. If you cannot find your way to God, go to where you have felt close to Him in the past. For some of us that will be to the power of music, we normally experience Him there. We may not hear His voice in our song at the moment, but keep going. You will be surprised what happens. For some of us, that means reading the Psalms. We may not hear Him there for a while, but keep going. Keep going to worship. Go even if the whole experience seems stale. It is a truism, that when we want to keep going the least, we need to keep going the most. Go in faith. Dawn will come.
For some of us, we may get a sudden shift. For some of us, we will get a gradual recovery. God, though, will call us. He knows our name, our story, and our needs. Grace will come. Healing will come. Victory will come. Our hope is not in a change of events. Our hope is in the power of the God who has promised to defeat every power of evil and who has promised to use the evil arrayed against us for our eternal good.
It was dark and it might feel dark, but the light is coming.
Also By Layne Wallace: Good Friday