Sunrise

Easter Sunday

Sunrise 

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” 

Job 19:25

Found in John 19:41-42 and 20:1-18

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene…”John 19:25

“…At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:41-42

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“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb…” John 20:1a

It was still dark.

Sometimes darkness is so thick, you can touch it. Drown in it. And when it takes you, when you give it ground, the shadows wrap around your mind, your heart, your soul, setting up camp in all the empty spaces; spaces where light once dwelt. And you scrape your skin to feel anything, but your senses are captive to the numbing dark.

Mary of Magdella. She had let the darkness in. Somehow, sometime, it had flooded her, overpowered her. She’d become lost in an always rising fog, lost in the ever present, ever thickening dark, scraping, screaming, living half alive in the realm of the dead. Seven demons had bound her, chained her in darkness (Luke 8:2-3). And she had stumbled lost. 

Shackled. 

In the dark. 

Alone. 

And there in the dark He’d found her. 

Light found her. 

Wholeness found her. 

Hope found her. 

And she’d found herself again, her five senses: the cool earth beneath her feet, the warm sunlight on her skin, the fragrant inhale of a breath drawn in, all the sounds and sensations of a life fully alive once more. Free. Unbound. Alive. 

And she’d followed Him who set her free. Along this road. This long road He had been on since before time began. This road that had led Him right to her, right to where she’d been stuck. There. In the dark. Alone.  

She’d followed Him everywhere. But she could not understand His path even as she followed Him. And now. It felt like the end of the road. This path seemed to suddenly disappear beneath her feet, like a rug pulled from underneath all hope. This road that dead-ended with the haunting spectre of all His love torn wide open, His grace dripping down, all her hope draining away into the encroaching darkness once more.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” John 20:1a

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It was still dark. 

And she was in it. Once more. Alone. Her heart all hollowed out by grief, her world emptied out of the one person who’d brought her back to life.

Grief. It drains a soul, seeping life, and in the gaping void anything can come. The last few days had she feared the rising darkness would bind her once more? Take her back? 

It’s strange how loss can leave you so emptied out on the inside and so disconnected from the outside. The outside world right there, just above your skin. Like all that’s left is a brittle shell. Echoing. Distant. The senses, they all collapse into this stormy sea of despair and the waves crash and roar and drown out all sound, drench out all touch, saturate all presence but the ever present dark. The presence of the hole. The gaping wound in reality where He once dwelt. Where she once dwelt. With Him.

Numb. Hollow. lost. Alone. She stumbles, wanders, drags in the dark. Her feet taking her to the only place her heart knows to go. Feels to flee. 

To Him. 

To the garden. Tomb. 

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb…” John 20:1a

It all began in a garden. This life stitched into time. The beginning of all our human consciousness began in a garden with God. We didn’t begin with a loud bang. We didn’t begin with a “Let there be- and it was so”. We didn’t begin with words at all. We began with mud.

And breath.

And the surrounding chorus of abundant garden life singing us awake. It was all a gift. Then. It was all His love. Then. And how humankind was loved and chosen and blessed into being. 

But the breath that He gave in that garden long ago causing us to wake, bringing us to life, became the life that took His breath away. From Him. And yet He gave it anyway. Our breath. Our life.

His life.

Eve’s choice to let the darkness in became Mary’s lived reality. The lived experience of all humankind. Life devoid of breath. Life in the dark. Distant. From Him.

Now she is here stumbling numb, looking for God, God who had been nailed to a cross, paying the debt that began in that first garden long ago. Paying her debt. Paying our debt. Paying the debt of every human being that ever breathed the breath of God.

And now His garden is a tomb. Holding the beaten body of God. 

What was Mary hoping to find there in this third garden of God? 

Hope?

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“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.” John 20:1

She comes to the tomb where God had lain to find only an emptiness, ringing hollow. The stone was gone, the tomb echoed empty, as vacuous as the hollowness of her. Without Him.

 She looks into the cave, the hole like the void that emptied out humanity’s wholeness, the gaping wound in all our hearts where God once dwelt before time began. We’re all dead-centre empty tombs without His living presence, His breath of life first given. God, YHWH was always meant to dwell in human hearts. His throne is there. Our home is there. But in the first garden we ripped out His throne and allied ourselves to the dark. 

And this is the mysterious love of God: He respected our humanity, our Imago Dei, our human volition so much that He let us do it. And then He picked up the trail of broken pieces that we left strewn behind as we left. 

His garden. 

Empty of us.

As we left ourselves. 

Empty of Him.

And He, in grace that loved us anyway, worked with us in our brokenness, broken relationships, broken promises, broken people, broken world. Like a kintsugi potter mending with gold, God clothed Adam and Eve, marked Cain with grace, partnered with Noah to salvage, called Abraham to join Him on the road, planted a people to bless the whole world and promised Himself to them, to us. 

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God promised to bless this whole breathless world with His renewing Breath once more. He promised He Himself would come. He whispered it down through time, love letters borne on water, messages in bottles, in circumstances, stories, psalms, prophecies and poetry, everything laced with this one simple message: Your God will come for you. He will come to save you from the darkness, to scoop you up in arms of grace and restore your human heart once more. He will come.

And He did. 

Come. 

Knowing the cost. 

And they did. We did.

Make Him pay.

And now here they laid Him. 

Dead. 

In the dark. 

In a cave. 

In the heart of the earth¹. 

The Garden where God dwelt with human beings became for Him a garden tomb. 

And yet He came anyway. 

Recklessly. 

From before time began².  

And now Mary comes. Lost. Lost in so much lonely darkness like every human soul that ever lived ever since that first day in that first garden where the tear began. All of us lonely longing for the connection that nothing else can replace no matter how we try. And we do try. But our lies always emaciate and our script lines never satiate. And we clang empty in the core of us. Absent of ourselves. 

As empty as His tomb. 

His grave no more.

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“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.” So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”” John 20:1-2

Mary assumes, not that He is risen, but that He was stolen. His body taken. She assumes human treachery over Holy intervention because before Him this had been her lived reality. And now after Him? She saw Him die, His life run down and puddle in the earth, His wounds ripped wide open to the scorn of humankind. She saw His heart break apart as her heart broke with His. These memories lingering drown her and drench her in disorientating grief. The images flash and roll in her mind like a thundering storm. Remembering the day Creation turned on its Creator. Reliving humankind’s inhumanity to God. What have we done? What has humankind done?

She was there when He took His last painful breath.

He died. 

And all her hope died with Him. 

Human darkness is all that’s left. All the never ending darkness just keeps spreading. Reaching. Taking. 

They have taken Him. They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!

It was still dark. It’s so hard to see in the dark.

“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)” John 20:2-9

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Peter saw everything. First. He went in. First. But the silence of his silence is so loud, escalating to a shout beside the other disciple’s immediate belief. When hope drains out, faith goes with it. Despair corrodes belief. Peter still didn’t understand. It was still dark. The night had not yet left him though the day had dawned. The disciples, they still did not understand the long old story that was still being told. The story that began before all time began, the story that will end after it. The story of a garden and a road to a cross. The story of Him.

Peter, he had thought he’d understood. He assumed he’d known Him. Known the path He was on. But he actually only knew who he wanted Him to be, a worldly Messiah bringing earthly victory. Not this. This humiliating death on a cross. This tomb ending. This emptying out. Peter’s heart beat numb, still lost in the last few nights. Re-living. Re-feeling. Re-falling. 

He wasn’t who he’d thought He was. Who was He?

And now who was he? 

A fisherman. 

End of story. 

It was still dark. It’s so hard to see in the dark. 

“ Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying…” John 20:10-11a

“Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb…” John 20:10-11a ESV

They all had places to go. Places to be. Place to curl up in despair. Places to hide away in the dark. But Mary. Was alone. Her community had fractured in the shadow of the cross, like sheep scattered, their shepherd dead. She like a lamb stumbled in darkness. Alone. They all had their own homes. But Mary, her home was Him. He was her very breath. She lingered, lost, empty as the tomb she waits beside, as grief like oceans swamp, and tears flood and drown. She sinks. Down. Into the endless depths of despair. She slumps down. She looks down into the empty tomb with an empty heart…

“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb… 

…and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” John 20:11-12

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Human eyes are strange things. So beautiful and yet so frail. So easily mislead by the filter of our minds, our hearts. When we feel to see, we fail to see. Everything.  

In the dim light of her broken heart, through the clouding fog of her grief, Mary faintly makes out two figures. But she doesn’t see them. 

Doesn’t see. 

Hope.

Her heart is focused only on Jesus. 

His absence. 

Her loss. 

“They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”John 20:13a

“Why are you crying?” They send her this lifeline shaped like a question. This question like the first question of God in the first garden long ago “where are you?”. The question He’d called to His first children, lost in the stumbling in dark, calling them to locate themselves. So they could locate Him.

Where are you Mary? Why are you weeping? Name it. Name your grief so you can name the story you are living through it. The false story that is swamping your vision. Name it so it doesn’t drown you. Name it like a lifeline to your soul. Where are you? Name it so your tears will cease to blind you. Name it so your eyes can clearly see. Hope.

And in asking they are also telling, sending her a message… Why weep? Tears are no longer part of this story. Your grief must turn to joy just as He foretold (John 16:20-22)…

 “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:22

But Mary cannot see, cannot hear, cannot feel. Her senses are numb. Captive to the dark. 

Unimpressed by angels she answers hollowed out…

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” John 20:13b

She speaks to them as though they are nothing because Jesus was her everything. “Why are you weeping?” they ask because they know He’s risen and there is no reason to weep. “They have taken my Lord away” she answers because she thinks He’s dead and doesn’t know how to live without Him.

Why am I weeping? They have taken away my Lord, my rudder on my boat, the anchor of my soul, and I’m losing myself in the swamping, drowning dark. I do not know where they have laid Him. I do not know how to breathe without Him. I do not know what to do next. Where am I? Lost. Lost in an always rising fog, lost in the ever present, ever thickening darkness. 

Lost. In the dark. 

Alone.

And there in the dark…

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   …He found her

“At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.” John 20:14

She saw Jesus. Standing right there. With her. The one person she is seeking with all her heart, longing for, grieving for.

She saw Jesus. But only with her eyes. Her grief blinds her. Binds her. She cannot see Him. Though light had dawned, it had not yet dawned in her.  It was still dark and she was still lost in it. It’s so hard to see in the dark. 

“He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” John 20:15a

He sends her this lifeline shaped like a question. This question like the first question in scripture. Where are you Mary? Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? Name it. Name your grief so you can name the story you are living through it. The false story that is swamping your vision. Name it so it doesn’t drown you. Name it like a lifeline to your soul. Name it so your tears will cease to blind you. Name it so your eyes can clearly see that not all emotions reveal the truth.

Locate yourself Mary, so you can locate Me. Here with you.

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“Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” John 20:15b

Tell me where He is and I will get Him myself her grief says to the very person she is trying so desperately to find. Her grief seeks the breathless, beaten body of God. But He is no longer to be found. The wholly risen Jesus stands before her. 

She thought He was the gardener. And He was. Once. But now He is the shepherd seeking His lost and wandering sheep. The sheep who recognise His voice calling even when their grief blinds their eyes.

“Jesus said to her, “Mary.”” John 20:16a

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“Mary”.

There is weight in our names when they are spoken by those who love us most, a gravity that grounds our feet to the earth, reminding us who we are when we have lost our way. He speaks her name like a dawning sun, like light breaking through an inclement sky. Like a storm sea calmed.  A thin rim of gold creeps over the horizon. And the veil of fogging grief draws back. Her senses begin to prick and sting with a sudden awakening. His lips breathed out her name like that first breath given by God. And her senses flood with warmth and joy and peace. 

And she awakes.

To Him.

“She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”)”. John 20:16b

A shaft of light breaks through the stormy dark, spreading, splintering, splaying out across the horizon of her grief. She turned toward him. Her eyes open. Wide. Wider. Sight enlarging, pupils dilating. She sees. She recognises. Him.

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There in the dark of her grief He found her. And finally, finally, finally she finds herself once more.

With Him. 

He reaches her. Light reaches her. Wholeness reaches her. Hope reaches her. And she finds herself again, her five senses, the cool dewy earth beneath her feet, the newly dawned sunlight on her skin, the fresh inhale of a breath drawn in, all the sounds and sensations of a life fully alive once more. Free. Unbound. Alive. 

He is alive!

She is alive. Because He lives.

She cannot contain her joy, her relief. She clings to Him. Holding hope.

“Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

My Father and your Father, to my God and your God” These words they ring. Like the clearest bell on the stillest night. My father is now your father. My God is now your God. Your place is now forever. With Me. Home. 

Father. In this one small interaction He says it three times. In the book of John Jesus is recorded as referring to God as Father at least 93 times³ with a personal intimacy unheard of in Old Testament Scriptures or Jewish tradition4. My Father and your Father… something new was born this day. Something new and ancient all at once.

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His disciples, they’d all scattered, gone to their ‘own homes’ (John 20:10) just as He’d said they would (John 16:32). But that wasn’t all He’d said. 

 ‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” John 16:32. 

They’d scattered, fragmented like a family torn apart. Like orphaned sheep. Lost. But Jesus had known that though they didn’t understand and though His journey was hard, He wasn’t alone. His Father was with Him. And now because of all He has done, His Father is now with humankind in a new way that is really also an old way. 

The way it had always been in that first Garden long ago. The way God always intended to be. Close. 

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:12-14

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15-17

It’s done Mary. The debt is paid. The adoption complete. A family restored.

We were stumbling lost in the thickening dark. Unable to see. Unable to breathe. So lost in the shadows we couldn’t recognise His presence with us. So blinded by darkness we had no idea what light felt like.

And there in the dark He found us. 

Because there on the cross He broke. The dark.

The chains.

The debt that was ours. 

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness 

and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”. 

Colossians 1:13

He came into our darkness. To be our light. To establish His Kingdom on earth. As it is in Heaven. There was always a larger story at work, a longer story, a story older than time, and deeper than deep-space. Underneath all the noise of all human circumstance there has always existed this one storyline thread. A thread that began before human existence. A thread that ends long after this world’s time is done. All the weavings of this world come and go, knotting, tearing, unravelling. But this one thread remains: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth²’, and in the end… there is no end. 

Because now we know…

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”
 

Job 19:25

We know it in our beating core, deep within its rhythmic song. We know. Underneath it all we know. 

 Our Redeemer lives. 

And because He died. We Live. Redeemed. Bought back from the edge of darkness. Adopted into the family of God.

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Mary, She knows. She sees eyes wide open. Him standing there on the earth. This earth beneath her feet. Beneath His. 

Her redeemer and ours. 

Alive.

So she runs like the rising of dawn with the news…

“Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20:18

I have seen! I have seen! Eyes wide open. I have seen Him! Alive. Alive. Alive! 

With me! 

The darkness has fled. The day is here. Light stretches boldly into the sky and darkness retreats into the shadows.  The beginning of forever is now. Eternity is now! His Kingdom is now on Earth as it is in Heaven. This earth right now, beneath our feet. 

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It all begins again in a garden. This life stitched into time. 

The beginning of all our human consciousness begins in a garden with God. Once more.

We didn’t begin with a loud bang. 

We didn’t begin with a “Let there be- and it was so”. 

We didn’t begin with words at all. 

We began with mud.

And breath.

Restored. 

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Journey Further 

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”

Job 19:25

The darkness has fled. The day is here. Light stretches boldly into the sky and darkness retreats into the shadows. The beginning of forever is now. Eternity is now! His Kingdom is now on Earth as it is in Heaven. This earth right now, beneath our feet.

Beneath yours!

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References Notes and Credits

1 Matthew 12:40

2 2 Timothy 1:9, Revelation 13:8, 1 Peter 1:18-21

3 In the NIV translation.

4 In pre-Christian Judaism using the term “Father” for God was rare. In Rabbinical Judaism of the first century AD, the name of Father was more commonly used, but still far less common than other terms describing God (Hofius, NIDNTT 1:618). Otfried Hofius, “Father,” NIDNTT 1:614-621 and Gottfried Quell and Gottlob Schrenk, patēr, ktl, TDNT 5:945-1022. http://www.jesuswalk.com

All Biblical quotations are from the NIV Bible UK version (NIVUK) unless otherwise stated. Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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