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April 15, 2006 (Easter Vigil)

Intern Pastor Joshua Graber

John 20:1–18

During our Easter Vigil service tonight, the contrast between darkness and light is obvious.

And it is appropriate that our gospel text tonight comes from the Gospel of John: The gospel that most ably uses the theme of light and darkness to tell the story of Jesus Christ.

In the gospel of John, Jesus is many things: “living water,” “the good shepherd,” but even before that, he is introduced as “the light of the world.”

In the first verses of John’s gospel we hear, “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people... The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn. 1: 4-5).

In our gospel tonight, the themes of light and dark are not as obvious but they are still present.

We hear that Mary goes to the tomb of Jesus while it is still dark outside. This is the obvious darkness in the story.

But there is another darkness in this story that is more important. The darkness inside of Mary.

Mary Magdalen has just witnessed the brutal death of Jesus. She is probably filled with confusion, pain, anger, shock, and intense depression. Jesus was the center of her life and now he was gone.

Inside of Mary there is a darkness, created by the loss of Jesus, that is so powerful... it keeps her from seeing the light even when it’s right in front of her.

In this story, Mary sees everything as dark. When she sees the empty tomb, she does not investigate but immediately jumps to her dark conclusion, that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.”

When she goes back to the tomb and finally investigates inside of it, she sees two angels in white... but does not see them as angels. They ask her why she is weeping, and she answers with suspicion and the same tragic outlook, “They have taken the Lord, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

When Mary sees Jesus, she even does not recognize him but assumes that he is a gardener and probably someone in on this conspiracy.

Mary is alone in her loss even when surrounded by people.

They are all strangers to her. They are all part of the problem. They are all adding to her confusion and dark mood. And then something breaks into Mary’s dark reality.

Do you remember what it is?

One Word—just one word—that brings Mary immediately back into the light she thought she had lost forever.

Please close your eyes. I’d like each of you to remember someone you know very well, maybe someone who is far away from you, maybe someone you have lost. This person should be someone you would like to see again more than anybody else in this world or the next. Now remember this person’s voice, and hear that voice calling to you. Saying your name.

We may not know the earthly voice of Jesus, but Mary did. And there was probably no voice she wanted to hear call her name more than her teacher’s.

And that is the one word Jesus speaks to her, that immediately brings her back into the light: Jesus speaks her name: “MARY!”

And with that one word Jesus speaks to her the gospel she needed to hear.

With that one Word, Jesus tells Mary that he is alive again. That he is not dead. That he has somehow conquered death to come back to her.

With that one word Jesus tells her “I have not left you orphaned and alone.”

With that one word he tells her that her darkness cannot keep his light out.

And with that one word he tells her, “I know you. I love you. And nothing, not even death, can separate you from my love.”

Earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd and the gatekeeper, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out ...and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (Jn 10:3b-4b).

Jesus speaks that one word to all those in his flock. He knows each of our names. And when he calls it we are promised that we will recognize his voice as Mary did.

Even when we are stuck in such darkness that we don’t recognize him, Jesus recognizes us and calls us into the light of his resurrection.

And through your baptism, you know that Jesus knows your name, and you will hear his voice call you from your dark tomb. Because this resurrection, this abundant light and this abundant life we celebrate as Easter is your story too.

We will rise as he has risen. This is the good news. There is no darkness, no night that can keep Jesus out. This is the new day of Easter. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again for you. Alleluia!

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