During this Holy Week as we move through the Easter drama, I find myself focusing upon a phrase which occurs in John 20, verse 1: "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance." I keep noticing that Mary went early on that Sunday morning, "while it was still dark."
Of course that theme of "darkness" runs all through the Gospel narratives. It begins with the birth of Jesus when we are told that he was born at night. Surely that is more than just a time of day, Jesus was born to "a people walking in darkness" says Isaiah. He was born into the darkness of oppression, poverty, despair, and yet hope-beyond-hope that a Messiah might come. Jesus was born while it was still dark.
Throughout the active ministry of Jesus, we are often told that he got up to go pray "while it was still dark." Again, more than just the early morning hours are intended, there is a message here about Jesus as the Light coming into the Darkness. Jesus found his strength through prayer while it was still dark.
And now at the climax of the Gospel, we learn that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was still dark and found that the Resurrection had already happened. The implication of course is that the Resurrection also happened "while it was still dark."
What are we to learn about this image of darkness and light? Surely it is more than just the old wisdom, "It is darkest before the dawn." That kind of simple, optimistic view of life does not give us much reassurance, does it?
No, the Gospels want us to hear a deeper message. Perhaps the message is that Hope and Resurrection come to us "while it is still dark." While it is still dark we already begin to discover the Good News. It is in the midst of the darkness that we receive the Good News of Light. While it is still dark we move toward the Light, even before we see the Light we can take steps of faith and expectation.
That early morning trip to the tomb must have been a little spooky and scary. Who would go to a graveyard while it is still dark? Only the person of faith who already anticipates and believes and hopes for the Light. The lesson is for us: while it is still dark, take steps of faith toward Easter.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner