John 20:1-18 (NRSV). Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Chaos. That early morning in the darkness, it must have felt like chaos. For three years, Jesus and his followers had walked the roads and streets of the countryside and the cities, teaching, learning, ministering. From the north to the south, they lived together as families do, arguing, forgiving, loving. The disciples, men and women, had developed a deep bond with each other and had been fully yoked to their rabbi, Jesus.
And, then, in just a few short days, everything had fallen apart. In just a few short days, everything had disintegrated. Disintegrated into chaos. Chaos and darkness.
But when chaos and darkness happen, well, that’s when God seems to be at his best.
We just heard this. In the stories we just listened to, we heard God at work in chaos and darkness. Out of chaos and darkness, God forming all of creation. Out of chaos and darkness, God delivering his chosen people from slavery and abuse at the hands of the Egyptians. And on and on and on in the stories of our faith.
Chaos and darkness. It is in chaos and darkness that God seems to be at his best.
It was no different that early Easter morning. In the midst of the chaos and darkness of the past three days, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, preparing to anoint the dead body of her beloved Jesus. And there, she found the large stone covering the entrance removed. Grave robbers. As if there wasn’t enough chaos.
We know the story so well. She ran to get Peter and John. The three of them returned to the tomb and discovered that the body of Jesus was, in fact, gone. Peter and John returned home, beginning to believe, but yet not fully understanding.
After they returned home, well, Mary remained. And, as the day began to dawn, Jesus called her by name. Mary. And she knew who he was. Out of chaos and darkness and into the light.
In the decades and centuries to come, this why the early Christians, as they celebrated the passover of Jesus from death to life. As they celebrated what we now know as Easter, they began at sundown, which, for them as Jewish Christians, was the beginning of their day. These early believers would wait in vigil in the darkness. And as they waited, they would tell the stories. The stories of their faith. The stories of God at work in chaos and darkness. The stories of God delivering his people out of it and into the light. The stories of God’s faithfulness.
And, then, at the crack of dawn, as the light was just beginning to break into the darkness, the baptisms would begin. All those who had been fasting and learning for the 40 days of Lent, in intense spiritual preparation for this very moment, they would be fully immersed in pools of water, drowning their past lives and emerging into new lives as claimed children of God. Members of God’s family. Members of the body of Christ. Out of chaos and darkness and into the light.
Four years ago I was deeply engaged in my work in labor and social justice along the border in south Texas. I had been doing this work for over twenty years and had relocated from Southern California to Texas to continue it in an area where there was little justice for people of color. After two years of working nearly 7 days a week, we were just beginning to see progress. And, then, everything fell apart. And I was laid off. Chaos and darkness.
But, in the midst of it, well, God was at work. Although, at the time, surrounded by it, I was no different than Mary. I couldn’t see God at work.
Yet, because of that layoff, I was pushed, literally pushed, by the Holy Spirit back to seminary to finish my studies. And, two years later, to end up right here in this very place, preparing to enter into full-time ministry in the church. In looking back now, I CAN see God at work in the midst of it. God’s hand moving me out of chaos and darkness into the light.
Where in your life has God been at work in the midst of chaos and darkness? Perhaps you can’t see it now. Perhaps you may never see it. Yet, somewhere, in the midst of it, you can trust that God is present there. Working. Faithfully.
Tonight, as we now move into reaffirming our baptism and as we receive communion, we can trust that God is at work in our midst. At work forming and shaping us so that we, like Mary and those early Christians, might go into the world and proclaim Christ in our words and our actions of love. Supporting the Holy Spirit in transforming our world into a new world. Not one of chaos and darkness. But a world of light. A world transformed by the light of the resurrected Christ.
Amen. That is, yeah, yeah, so shall it be!
(Preached for Easter Vigil, March 26, 2016.)