SERMON DELIVERED ON EASTER SUNDAY APRIL 12TH, 2020
John 20: 1-18 – “New life begins while it was still dark”
Alleluia, the Lord is risen – He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
May I warmly welcome you all again to this Easter service. I am indeed delighted to welcome, on your behalf, the Head of State, the Governor General of Solomon Islands, the Rt. Rev. Sir David Vunagi and Madam Mary who have come to join us for this Easter Service. I further extend our welcome to those who are joining in from their homes or other places throughout our country, Solomon Islands. Easter is a great day; it is the day of the resurrection of our Lord; the day we are given hope and assurance for our own resurrection and new life.
Secondly, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the leaders of our nation, Solomon Islands, the Governor General, the Prime Minister and our national leaders for their very important decision for our Churches to continue their services, despite the enormous fear we all have of the corona virus. We pray that God will bless our nation through that State decision.
The story of the resurrection of our Lord is a story of renewal, transformation of life, new light and is a journey of faith for nations, communities, families and individuals. We pray that it will be the story of our nation as we, as a nation continue to live with the fear of the Covid-19. Fear that was increased by Cyclone Harold last week, which led to the tragic and painful death of 27 beloved lives in the sea on 3rd April. But also fear of the many untold painful stories of communities, families and individuals. We pray that the new light of Christ’s resurrection will renew and transform those fears and take us on a new journey of life.
Allow me to take you through the story of the resurrection from when darkness and fear reached its highest climax. The story of the resurrection began on Good Friday when human beings thought that they have successfully locked Jesus down. Let us make justification for this with the words of scripture. The last word of Jesus on the cross ‘Father into your hands, I place my spirit’, affirms it. For us others (Clergies or catechists) to do it for us, but Christ did it for himself before bending down in death. What happens……, explain. It is common knowledge that resurrection is God’s activity; no dead body can raise itself.
The story of the resurrection began very early on the first day of the week, Sunday, ‘when it was still dark’. The moment of time carries John’s contrasting theme of darkness and light or vice versa. The statement ‘it was still dark’ bear connotation on what happened on Good Friday. There was still confusion, fear, doubt, frustration, anger, darkness still cast over the lives his followers and those who became his believers. But in the midst of all that, a new story has begun, though it is still concealed by human lives, it has actually begun.
The statement ‘when it was still dark’ sets a strong back for God whose power destroyed sin and death. He raised his Son to new life by bursting from the dark tomb of death. Being filled with the power of the new life breathed in him by his Father, Jesus destroys our fears, doubts, confusion and darkness. He breaths upon us his breathe of new life, (peace be with you) he destroys our darkness forever, clears our doubts and reorder and recreates our confused order of life once and for all.
The darkness John meant, therefore, was not just the physical darkness before sunrise, but the spiritual darkness, we encounter every day through the different situations of life at all levels.
The first resurrection morning looked very bleak for Mary Magdalene. She had been with Jesus almost from the beginning of his ministry. She had seen lives changed, people healed, and eyes opened. But on Good Friday, just a few days before, Jesus was crucified. Nails had been driven into his hands and feet. A sword had pierced his side. Mary stood at the foot of the cross hopeless and helpless as her Saviour dies slowly in agony, but with love. She was heartbroken to see in the most-cruel way the very person who had given her hope, wholeness and new life dying.
In the resurrection morning, Mary came to the tomb with heart still heavy, ‘it was still dark for her. But there is more, her wholeness has fallen into pieces again. She didn’t have a life she wanted to go back to; she still longs to experience the goodness of Christ. Sadness, disappointment, and emptiness consumed her. Her soul languished in spiritual darkness. We all feel that way; we all have days where our hopes, faith and wholeness fall in shambles around our feet. We all have failed expectations, deep moments of fear (now the Covid-19), when our lives were going so well and suddenly faces a darkness, with uncertain ending.
Mary was consumed by that seemingly endless darkness, not realising that the story has changed. A new light that shines forever is illuming over the horizon. A new life that knows no end has been won for her. The way for her to experience Jesus forever has been made possible. The power of sin and death has been destroyed completely.
My sisters and brothers it is easy to believe when everything is all sunlight and happiness. Our belief changes very quickly when it is dark and is still dark. It is easy to believe that God is for us when all about life goes well, but we naturally incline to feel rejected, guilty, or abandoned. Anyone can walk in the sunshine; but only few faithful ones can walk in the dark. Life is not just all sunshine; sunshine with no dark clouds to make rain produces a desert, not a garden. In other words, there is no glory without suffering.
Because the resurrection of Jesus took place when it was still dark, all four gospels record it differently. Even the synoptic gospels have variable differences in their records. All were giving us evidences from the human point of view, but the resurrection of Jesus is done by God alone, out of human sight. We can only see, witness and experience the traces (clothes, angelic announcement, and empty tomb). It is exactly the way we respond to the belief and experiences of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is both for corporate and personal lives. On the personal level, it can disfigure (into a gardener), it can figure differently.
The empty tomb, (they have taken….), she came back the second, stood crying at the tomb, mistaken Jesus for a gardener are all reference points of personal incomplete story of a complete story. It is the same us; sometimes the complete story of the resurrection becomes incomplete through the lanes of our lives.
In June 18, 1815, during the battle of Waterloo, the British depended on a system signals (called semaphore) to convey the latest news from the battlefield. One of these signal stations was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral. Late on 18th it flashed the signal: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N—DE-F-E-A-T-E-D- -.” At that precise moment a cloud of fog rolled in and blocked out the signal. The news of defeat quickly spread throughout the city. The whole countryside was sad and gloomy when they heard their country had lost the war. But just suddenly the fog lifted, and the remainder of the message could then be read. It consisted of four words, not two. The complete message was: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N- – -DE-F-E-A- T-E-D- – -T-H-E- – -E-N- E-M-Y!” It took only a few minutes for the good news to spread. Sorrow was turned into joy; defeat was turned into victory!
This is exactly what happened to Mary that first resurrection morning – all was not as expected, but the fog of Good Friday lifted when Jesus called her by name. Sorrow was turned into joy, defeat turned into victory, darkness was overcoming by light. Mary had a new lease on life. It is the same for us when we stumble through periods of spiritual darkness. Jesus is there, whether we can see him or not. God’s plan for our lives is still moves forward, even when we cannot see a way forward, we need to have faith.
Today, if you are in one of those spiritually dark places (and we all are at one time or another), I want you to know there is hope; remember the first verse of our text today…. “While it was still dark, Jesus had already risen”. He walks with us through our faith.
Jesus was there with Mary in the darkness on that first resurrection morning. The tomb was empty because Jesus is with us, with our nation, our communities and families in this uncertain and fearful time of Covid-19. The story of fear of the Covid-19, though seems to surpass the story of the resurrection, it is only a dark overcast. The complete story is that Jesus calls us name, calls Solomon Islands by name; our part is to recognise his voice. We pray that as he calls us by names, call Solomon Islands by name, we shall turn in repentance and humility.
St. John, the writer of our text this morning knew this, so he gave us these words of hope at the very beginning of his Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never put it out!” (John 1:5). The Lord has risen!
The Lord has risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Most Revd Leonard Dawea
Archbishop of Melanesia
Bishop of Central Melanesia