Easter Day Mark 16: 1-8, 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
Very early, on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, the women came to the tomb.
I imagine some of you might be morning people – you like to be up early, or maybe work means you need to be up early, or maybe you have a small child who has not yet learnt the meaning of the term “lie-in” (in my experience it takes about 13 years..).
So you may be very well acquainted with the dawn.
Others of you might be like me and only see the dawn on very rare occasions. Apparently today the sunrise was officially at 6.49 – but of course dawn starts before that, as the darkness of the night starts to give way to the first streaks of light and colour in the sky.
For those without too much direct experience, here is a beautiful description someone recently shared with me, by Virginia Woolf in her novel The Waves. This begins in the dim moments of gathering light that proceed daybreak. The sun had not yet risen.
“The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it. Gradually as the sky whitened a dark line lay on the horizon dividing the sea from the sky and the grey cloth became barred with thick strokes moving, one after another, beneath the surface, following each other, pursuing each other, perpetually..”
Dawn is beautiful, gradual, mysterious – yet over time the light grows, and day begins.
No wonder we use the term things ‘dawn on us’ as a way of describing a slow recognition of truth: sometimes reality ‘dawns on us’, compared to those times we have a ‘lightbulb moment’ when we suddenly grasp something.
The first witnesses come to the empty tomb at dawn – and I think it dawns on them only slowly what has really happened.
Who will move the stone, huge as it is?
Here it is – rolled back!
Who is the young man in a white robe sitting in the tomb?
What is he saying? “Jesus has been raised. Go and tell the disciples”
No wonder they are described as ‘dumbfounded’ and Mark writes “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”. Some manuscripts of Mark’s gospel even end there. But of course if they had never got over this initial shock there would be no resurrection story at all.
Slowly, light dawns, the truth dawns, their terror subsides and they go with the joyful message to the disciples.
Even then – the dawning of the truth of Christ’s resurrection is slow.
Luke tells us the disciples thought, at first, that what the women had to say was ‘idle gossip’;
Luke also tells us the story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus is not recognised at first;
Meanwhile John singles out Thomas as the one who doubts the accounts of others until he sees for himself.
Slowly, gradually, but surely, reality dawns. Jesus is risen from the dead – he is alive – death has been conquered.
We heard a passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, probably written about 20 years after the resurrection.
Paul seems very sure of exactly what happened as he ‘reminds them’ of the gospel:
“Christ died.. was buried…he was raised to life on the third day.”
Paul is the one from whose story we get our phrase ‘Damascus moment’ to explain a sudden grasp of the truth and the turn around it can produce. But even Paul, whose encounter with the risen Jesus was – literally – a blinding flash, takes time to explain how Jesus gradually appears to more and more people
“he appeared to Cephas, and afterwards to the twelve. Then he appeared to over 500 of our brothers.”
We don’t know whose account Paul had heard – remember the gospels weren’t written down for another 20 or 30 years after Paul’s letters – but he is summarising for the church at Corinth that their faith is that Jesus is risen and that the truth of his risen life is spreading gradually across the world, like the rising sun.
In the last six months I have seen my parents gently decline and die – into their nineties, full of years and full of faith. In a sense it has felt like a story of the sun gently setting, rather than a story of dawn.
And yet reflecting on their lives, I realise that although neither of them was an out-front, gregarious evangelical – you know the type who talks to strangers on the bus about Jesus – their lives witnessed to a faith which grew gently through the years and which illuminated their lives.
They were both brought up going to church, and brought up all of us, their children, in the life of the church too. They served as elders, my dad often involved with money and buildings, and my mum as a faithful Sunday school teacher and youth group leader.
They loved and supported many ministers, including, as my life unfolded, me.
They were both unafraid of death, not because they were whistling in the dark, but because they were longing to see what the true light of God’s presence would be like. As the light of their physical energy waned, the light of Christ within them just grew stronger. And when at last they were ‘promoted to glory’, as my lovely Salvation Army friends say, and people have said ‘I’m sorry to hear about their deaths’ my honest response has been “I’m not”.
The good news is that those of us who try to walk in the light of Christ, in the end go to live in the unending love and light Christ promises.
I wonder what good news you need to hear this morning?
Perhaps you’re ready for Paul’s blinding flash to illuminate your darkness.
Perhaps having held back your Alleluias all through Lent you are ready to let your joy burst out in a huge explosion.
Or perhaps like the women going to the tomb, you are only just feeling your way in the darkness, hoping for a glimmer, trusting that the light will dawn on you as time passes.
The truth of Easter is that just as the sun inexorably shines more strongly as dawn come, so the light of the risen Christ breaks upon us.
Whether we are aware of the first trickles of the light of truth in our darkness; or appreciating the growing strength and certainty of daylight; or basking in the full glare of noonday – the light of the love of God shines on us.
That love is greater than death.
That love raised Jesus from the tomb.
That love will shine on us, in us and through us.
The dawn breaks and Christ is risen indeed – alleluia. Amen.