Audio is available on the Christ Church website.
One of my favorite youth ministry games is called Sardines. For those of you who are sadly unfamiliar with Sardines, it is something of a distant cousin to hide-and-seek. Everyone gathers in a room while the first person heads off to find a hiding place. After each passing minute, another member of the group heads out, in search of the first. When you find that first person, you join them in their hiding place, until, smushed together like sardines, all the seekers but one are hiding in the same spot. In my experience, the best time to play Sardines is around midnight, during a youth group lock-in, when the lights in the church are all turned off. Well, at least that’s true most of the time. A few years ago, in Foley, we had a college group staying in our education building while on a Habitat for Humanity spring break trip. During one of their late-night games of Sardines, someone had the brilliant idea to hide in an upper cabinet in one of our classrooms. It was the sort of decision one makes in the darkness. It did not end well for the student or the cabinet. Still, despite the occasionally foolish decision that arises after midnight, there is something exciting about seeking in the dark, as senses are heightened, and expectation grows.
On this Easter morning, we find Mary Magdalene searching in the dark. After witnessing the gruesome death of her beloved friend and Rabbi on Friday afternoon, Mary spent all day Saturday searching in the dark. How had it all gone so wrong? Where were his disciples? Why didn’t the fight for him? Why didn’t Jesus come down from the cross? Mary spent the Passover Sabbath lost in the darkness of fear, shame, and grief. After what must have been another sleepless night, she couldn’t wait any longer. She had to go see the tomb. She needed a place to weep, a location upon which to pour out all her grief. So, while it was still dark, literally before the sun came up, but more accurately, figuratively with the light of hope extinguished from her soul, Mary made her way to the tomb, searching in the dark for closure, if nothing else. She fully expected to arrive in the garden, take a seat in front of the still sealed tomb, and pay her respects. Despite having heard Jesus on multiple occasions assure his disciples that on the third day, he would rise again, nobody, especially not Mary, expected him to be anything but dead and buried.
Imagine her surprise when she finally got close enough to see the tomb and realized that the stone had been rolled away. Still in the dark, Mary jumps to the only obvious conclusion she can imagine, someone has stolen the body of Jesus, her dear Rabbi, her confidant, her healer, and her friend. I’m not sure she thought it was possible for things to get darker than they had been since late Friday afternoon, but in an instant the darkness got darker. Searching for meaning, for help, for solace, quickly Mary ran to find Peter and John to help her make sense of the growing darkness that surrounded her. “They have taken the Lord!” she cried, and when the disciples took off running, she too returned to the tomb.
Surely, the sun had come up by now, but John makes no mention of it. Darkness is still all around as Peter and John return home, having seen the empty tomb. There is a flicker of hope, like a single flame in the midst of pitch blackness, in the belief of the other disciple, but that is quickly extinguished when all he can muster is to turn around and head home while Mary stays behind. Still searching in the darkness, still weeping with tears that will not stop, still hoping to find Jesus’ body so that he can be laid to rest once more, she happens upon a man she assumes to be the gardener returning to work after the Sabbath. Things have gotten so dark for Mary that she can’t even recognize Jesus when he is standing right in front of her, but with one word, everything changes.
Suddenly, the light came flooding in. The darkness of her fear was forced to flee. The darkness of her sorrow was washed away. The darkness of her hopelessness was put to flight. Mary had searched and searched and searched in the darkness, and with a single word, she found the light of life. Off she went, yet again, this time not searching in the darkness, but soaring in the light. She found the disciples, still hiding in their own darkness and proclaimed to them the Good News of Easter. “I have seen the Lord!”
I think one of the reasons that Easter continues to have such strong cultural significance, one of the reasons so many of us show up to Church this day, one of the reasons Facebook offers sharable Easter cards, is because all of us know what it is like to search for truth in the midst of darkness. All of us have been where Mary was. For some, our darkness comes as the result of the loss of a loved one. For others, it is the destruction of a relationship. For some, it is a struggle with addiction, illness, or anxiety. Still others live in fear for where their next meal might come from, or find themselves anxious when there is more month than there is money. Whatever it is that causes us to enter the darkness, none of us is immune to it. All of us, from time to time, end up searching in the dark, and all of us hope to find our way back into the light. Maybe you are still searching in the dark this morning. That’s all right. Even Peter, when he saw the empty tomb, wasn’t quite ready to believe that light was possible. Still, we who have experienced the darkness of hopelessness, fear, and grief all gather each Easter because we know, deep down, that light entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ. No matter how dark things might seem, we still gather and enjoy the brightness of the Easter lilies. We worship with the help of brass and timpani. We put on the pastel hues of our Easter finery. And we make our shout, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
But what then? What happens when the seersucker gets put back in the closet, the bonnets get tucked away for another year, the ham bone gets made into soup, and the champagne loses its fizz? What happens when the darkness comes creeping back? What difference does Easter make come Monday afternoon? That’s the story that is still to be told, the story that comes next Sunday. As evening came that first Easter Day, the disciples had already locked themselves back into fear and darkness. The light that had dawned that morning was already growing dim, when Jesus appeared in their midst. See, the truth of Easter is that it doesn’t last only a day. The power of Easter is available every day. There is a reason our Easter Proclamation is, “Alleluia, Christ is risen” and not “Christ was risen.” “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The light of Christ that burst forth on the first Easter Day can never be extinguished. The light of Christ that entered the world on Easter Day will never go away. Come Monday afternoon, no matter how dark things might feel for you, Jesus will be there, walking alongside you as the risen Lord and the bringer of hope.
Like a good game of Sardines, all of us have ended our search in the darkness here at Christ Episcopal Church this morning. My Easter prayer is that next time you find yourself searching in the dark, you can find your way back here, where the love of God will never be withheld, the light of Christ will never grow dim, and joy of the Spirit will never fade away. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
 I follow the general consensus in assuming the disciple whom Jesus loved to be John the Evangelist.