John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark”.
So begins today’s gospel reading. It speaks of an end and a beginning. It is a new day, a fresh canvas with all its possibilities unknowns. It is also the end of a long night – it was still dark. The writer of the fourth Gospel makes much of these themes of light and darkness. Right at the beginning of the Gospel, in the prologue, he talks about the light that is coming into the world that would banish darkness. That light was Christ who more than once said “I am the light of the world”. He cured people who were blind, and enlightened those whose minds were closed. Early in his ministry Nicodemus came to Jesus by night – secretly, furtively, because he was a respected Jewish leader and it might have ruined his credibility.
Now as the story nears its end he has ‘come out’ and is there again with Joseph of Arimathea arranging the burial in the garden tomb. Throughout the narrative there are flashes of light even amongst the greatest gloom. On the cross there are moments of brightness as when Jesus commits his mother and his best friend to each other’s care, or when someone offers a sponge of sour wine to quench his parched lips. We are all aware of the simple gestures of kindness that may be all we can offer to a dying friend or relative. The writers of the synoptic gospels all speak of darkness over the whole world or the whole land, from the sixth to the ninth hour, the time of Jesus’s greatest suffering and death. Now, two days later, in the first day of the week the gloom begins to lift and there is the first experience of Jesus in his risen power. Mary is there to witness it, as is Peter and possibly John or Lazarus (depending how we interpret the one whom Jesus loved). There is a difference between Jesus’ crucified body and the one encountered by Mary in the garden. On the road to Emmaus, disciples who knew Jesus well did not recognise him (Luke 24). This new body of Jesus seemed capable of walking through locked doors and thick walls. The risen body of Jesus is continuous with his earthly body, just as a flower is continuous with, but different from a seed. Life ends in death, the theme pursued by Saint Paul in his sermon on resurrection. That is the one certainty about this life. We can ignore the fact of our own demise. We can welcome it as a gentle friend. We can fear it as the great unknown. Had we been able to anticipate this life while in the womb, might we have feared it or might we have anticipated it with all the joy that a new experience holds? Love was waiting for us at the other side. We cannot become what we are meant to be unless we die first.
Our bodies cannot be transformed into resurrection bodies until they pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Because Jesus has trod this path before us, death no longer holds the tenor of nothingness, the fear of oblivion, which overshadows life with the possibility that it was all pointless. The process of dying still holds its fears, but death itself becomes a friend. It ushers us, not into an endless series of re-births, but into a final death and rebirth to life itself in which death is no more. It becomes part of the past not the future. The cross of Christ and its counterpart the Resurrection, tell us that the secret of life is found in this pattern of death and resurrection that we are in Jesus, the Son of God.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that by the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. The God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep; through the blood of the eternal covenant; make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight.
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