Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Isaiah 25.6-9; Acts 10.34-43; John 20.1-18
Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by Thee; joyless is the day's return, till Thy mercy's beams I see, till they inward light impart, glad my eyes, and warm my heart.
You might recognise that verse from Charles Wesley's beautiful hymn 'Christ, whose glory fills the skies' which strikes me as the song that Mary Magdalene was probably singing as she headed from the Upper Room on that Sunday morning, that first day of the week, that first day of the new creation.
The Sabbath had ended and so they were able to complete the burial rites for Jesus that’d been curtailed by the beginning of that enforced period of rest - but only as soon as it was possible and safe to do so.
All the cloud that’d been bubbling up during the week, culminating in that period of darkness on Good Friday as Jesus hung in agony on the cross, had gone. It was still dark but the first streaks of light of a new day could just be seen in the east. The day was beginning, it was a cloudless sky but Mary's heart was heavy.
Dark and cheerless is the morn
unaccompanied by Thee.
Mary was too impatient to wait for the others to wake and so she crept from that room, not disturbing the rest of her companions who were still sleeping, and made her way out through the gates of the city and to the garden in which the cave was located where Jesus was buried. What she intended to do we don't know. St John, who tells us the story in this morning’s Gospel reading, just says that
'Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.' (John 20.1)
In the first light of day, with eyes still bleary with sleep, things don't always seem as they are, things look different as the light changes. But Mary was shaken from any remaining effects of disturbed and restless sleep when she saw that the stone was no longer sealing the tomb but had been rolled away.
John doesn't say it but this brave and desperate woman must have gone into the cave, into the tomb, she must have seen what had happened, without knowing what had happened, because the next thing that John tells us is that
'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.' (John 20.2)
I'm fascinated that when Mary reports the news she speaks of 'we', 'we do not know where they have laid him.' But she was on her own, she didn't know where they had laid him. Or was it that she was speaking for me, was it that she was speaking for us, is it as if we were accompanying her in that early morning vigil at the tomb who know that
'joyless is the day's return,
till Thy mercy's beams I see.'
The cloud has been removed from the chancel of the Cathedral. Since Ash Wednesday it hung there, brooding over everything that we’ve been doing. It’s hovered as a constant reminder of the clouds that can hang over us, those clouds of doubt and fear, the clouds of depression and anxiety but also those clouds of unknowing that are part and parcel of the Christian life.
It was an unknown English author of the 14th century who first coined that phrase in the book ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ where it’s written
‘Beat with a sharp dart of longing love upon this cloud of unknowing which is between you and your God.’
Mary longs for Jesus. He gave her back her life. He changed the lives of all those locked away in that Upper Room, out of fear, out of guilt, in shock at what’d happened. But whilst all of their lives had been changed it was Mary whose life had been saved. As Jesus had once said of her to the others
'The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.' (Luke 7.47)
But she 'has shown great love' he says to them all, watching how she was responding to Jesus, and we see that played out this morning as she runs from the room to the tomb - and we run with her and see and do not know.
There can still be a cloud of unknowing even though the sky is cloudless and streaked with the bright beams of a new day. We beat 'with a sharp dart of longing love upon this cloud' longing for the one from whom we seem to be separated.
There’ve been many interesting comments about this year's Lent art installation by Susie MacMurray. But one of the ones made more often was amazement that a Christian church should exhibit something called 'Doubt'. 'We thought you were about certainty' people have said. That’s given us the opportunity to say that the opposite of doubt is not certainty, the opposite of doubt is faith. We do not know for sure, we do not have a cast-iron proof of anything, we believe and belief is about faith. We peek into the empty tomb and we share with Mary the not knowing so that she can say to the others 'we do not know where they have laid him.'
Wesley's verse ends though in that great place where Mary ends. The men come with her to see what’s going on and when they see it is as we have told them, they rush back to tell the others. But Mary remains, weeping, and we stand alongside her. Peter will always rush here and there and John will run after him, an impetuous pair - but we will remain with the unknowing - and then into that space Jesus comes, even though for a moment we still do not know - do not know who he is
till they inward light impart,
glad my eyes, and warm my heart.
Jesus speaks her name and Mary knows him; Jesus speaks our name and we know him. Our eyes are glad, our hearts are warm. We may not have all the answers about resurrection but we know that it is true, because we have faith, because we believe and because on a cloudless day we’re touched by the warmth of his presence in the chill of the early morning, as bread touches empty hands and we know that he is with us.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.