Post Author: Jess Felici
One of the most complicated aspects of losing Lily has been proclaiming Good News in the midst of resounding darkness. In my anxiety over preaching on Easter, a Young Clergy Woman International colleague reached out and shared a sermon she had written in a dark time in her life. I leaned heavily on her words in finding my way to the truth of Easter. Thank you, Rev. Elizabeth Grasham, for your kindness and witness to the love of Jesus. Below, you’ll find the words I preached on Easter Sunday this year.
Will you pray with me?
Lord, we gather in this church to hear the Good News of your resurrection, that death has been swallowed up by your victory. Help our eyes adjust to the light of new life as we sit in this twilight. Give us courage to mirror your own vulnerability as we seek resurrection in our own lives. Amen.
I’ve lived in a twilight world for just over two months now.
Since Lily’s birth and death, I have existed somewhere between sleep and awake. As the tulips and daffodils push up through mounds of mulch and my crocuses bloom with abandon, I am just barely beginning to pull out of the haze and into the warmth of spring. Finally, splashes of color are returning to the world of gray tones in which I have dwelled now for nine weeks.
The future that I’ve imagined, the reality I awaited is now gone. At first, days and nights flittered by. I remembered to eat because food showed up. I slept because the exhaustion of grief landed heavily on my eyelids. These days, I’m functioning much better, but one thing that hasn’t yet changed is my awareness of twilight. I am awake earlier these days, sitting in the not-yet morning light, surrounded by a blanket of hazy darkness.
This twilight is precisely where we meet Mary Magdalene. It was early on the first day of the week, scripture tells us it was still dark. Jesus’ death still hung heavily in the air; the trauma still so fresh it replayed itself any time she closed her eyes. She longed to be near him, her beloved teacher, to see once more that it wasn’t a bad dream, but that Jesus was, indeed, dead.
So she found herself on the path to his tomb in the twilight of that morning.
Because sometimes, new life doesn’t wait for the dawn.
Because sometimes, God acts powerfully in the darkness of our lives.
So often, we associate the Easter story with morning sun and cheer, with lilies and tulips, but when we take a closer look at John’s account of the resurrection story, we find that Easter— Easter begins in the dark of night.
Easter sometimes seems like a story that is too bright for someone in their grief. In these months since Lilian’s death, I’ve changed my prayer for the grieving. Instead of praying for the light of Christ to pierce someone’s darkness, I pray for someone to courageously carry an ember of his light nearby, to let their eyes adjust to the light.
As Mary arrives at the tomb, she sees that the stone is rolled away. Distressed, she runs and gets Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved. It was too much for her; she needed other witnesses to what was unfolding. The men race ahead of her to the tomb and discover that Jesus’ body is not there; they take off running again… After Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, witness the empty tomb for themselves, they become entirely swept up in the joy and thrill of Easter— it’s a perfectly wonderful response to the resurrection! But Mary Magdalene lingers. She remains in the twilight, slowly entering the tomb.
As we raise the lights as bright as they can go, and sing our Alleluias at the top of our lungs, I’m afraid that sometimes we leave the vulnerable souls who dwell in twilight behind. Maybe you find yourself stuck, weeping outside the tomb this year. Maybe you, too, are standing in your own twilight. You’ve suffered a trauma you never imagined, or you are fighting to pull yourself out of the cycle of depression or addiction; perhaps your twilight looks more like the exhaustion of new parenthood or of caring for an elderly parent. Perhaps your body has betrayed you.
In this darkness, as you wait for the dawn, I pray you can hear it, too— the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. Because Jesus doesn’t wait for Mary to catch on; he shows up in her darkness, and speaks to her, appearing as the gardener.
This is the story of Easter. Jesus’ victory is not one of conquest over death, but of submission unto death. He is cracked open, vulnerable, and enters into the deepest darkness. Easter’s story is that God meets us in our cracked-open, vulnerable shells and works resurrection in our darkness.
It is not seen by day, the hard work God accomplishes in weary souls who sit day after day in twilight. It is done in the weeping, in the gray of twilight, in the mess and agony of our grief. As we stand outside of the tomb, Jesus meets us. God pieces us together in new ways, speaking softly into our brokenness, calling us by name. Just as Jesus’ story doesn’t end at the cross, this twilight is not the end of our story.
God meets us in the darkness, in the quiet, when we are most vulnerable; God meets us in our pain and suffering, and calls us by name. God meets us in the twilight of our lives and grants us new life.
Easter is different for me this year than I ever imagined. The new life I hold is not a tiny baby who looks to me for care, but rather, my own. I am a new person, in whom God is working resurrection in the twilight. I haven’t yet arrived to the joy of bright lights and flowers and Alleluias easily flowing… I’m still hovering outside the tomb. And, yet, Jesus finds me here.
The same goes for you, in your own twilight. Jesus doesn’t wait for you to be exuberant, swept up in the joy of Easter to find you and offer new life. Jesus, the gardener, greets you.
And together we can proclaim the news that spans millennia— Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia.
This Easter, as we celebrate the life that God can bring— even in darkness— may you feel God meet you. In the quietness, in your vulnerable twilight moments, may you hear God call your name, and may you be healed.
Jess Felici is a Lutheran pastor in the mountains of West Virginia, serving alongside her husband and best friend in a parish of five churches. Together, they have a 3 year old SweetPea and a RegalBeagle who will soon turn 9. Their second daughter, Lily, was stillborn in 2018.
Image by: mnievesmc
Used with permission