Facing the dark side

by Jonathan Ball last modified 26 Apr, 2011 05:52 PM

In her televised Easter Day sermon, the Dean of Salisbury, the Very Revd June Osborne, challenges us that the message of Easter is that the light of the risen Christ will overcome any darkness in our lives, if only we will let it.

Facing the dark side

The Very Revd June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury

Observing to the Salisbury Cathedral congregation that Mary Magdalen was so stuck in her anxieties that she almost failed to see what God was doing until she had a personal encounter with Jesus, the Dean challenged them to allow God's light and healing into the dark sides of their lives, to counter the things which steal hope away.

The full text of her sermon is below:

When my alarm clock went off at half past three this morning and I pulled myself out of bed two thoughts were at the top of my mind.

The first was – would it stay dark long enough?  Churches all across the world will’ve begun this day like we did here in Salisbury, by worshipping at dawn. But this Easter weekend is so late this year that I could tell that the dawn chorus was ready for the off, just as if it were a summer’s morning.  So as I stepped into the shower I was wondering if it’d still feel like deep darkness at 5o’clock. You see it’s really important to us that the first worship of Easter Day starts off without any light whatsoever.

We heard just now how the day of Jesus’ resurrection begins in the dark when Mary Magdalene is also out and about before dawn. But worshipping in the dark isn’t about creating a kind of re-enactment, it’s about facing up to all that is dark and threatening for us – the winters of our souls, the dark sides of who we are and the things which steal our hope away: for what is the human condition without warmth and light and hope?

I needn’t have worried because when we first made it into the Cathedral it was as if we were Jonah swallowed by the whale with the ribs of the great ceiling hardly visible. And in that darkness I thought of how it’s been such an anxious winter for so many, and the truth of today begins with us getting out of bed early enough to show that we take the reality of that darkness seriously.

My second thought was a much more personal one.  Today would’ve been my Mum’s birthday but she died just before Christmas and so this is the first 24th of April when I won’t be ringing her to wish her a happy birthday.  So I remembered how Easter Day not only begins in the dark, it also begins by a grave, and there are many of us here this morning who know what a cruel place a grave can be. 

“While it was still dark.....Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb”.

This we know, this we expect. Mary Magdalene was after all no stranger to bad things.  She’d almost certainly suffered from prolonged mental illness and was something of an outsider to conventional people.  And now the crucifixion of Jesus and the burial of his body in a tomb brought her to focus on what she’d lost and the prospect of a long road of sorrow. So stuck was she in her anxieties that she failed to see what there was to believe, she almost failed to see what God was doing, and missed the invitation to embrace life. 

Easter Day is our declaration that the light will come, and if we let it light will prevail.  Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of God was shown to us, has rescued us from the power of darkness and revealed to us the mystery of God’s never-ending love for us. John, who writes up Mary’s experience begins his gospel story with this most extraordinary statement, anticipating that day of resurrection.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”  – did not consume it.

Now this is different, this we do not expect. Like Mary Magdalene we may not be aware of God’s presence, the dawn may seem to us just another day of quiet desperation: but the truth which is announced here in a face to face encounter is that nothing can separate us from God’s care for us, death can’t do it, nor the things we worry about, nothing at all will be able to separate us from the love of God which we see promised in the resurrection of Jesus.

But to grasp this truth Mary had to look into the face of Jesus and respond. She had to let go of the grave and her preoccupations. There was a different quality of life on offer once she believed that the light of God could never be extinguished.

And here in this Cathedral today you and I also receive an invitation to embrace life as we pass by our font and see what’s written there.  It stands as a reminder to all of us that it’s so easy to be cynical, so easy to exchange a sense of wonder about the mysteries of being human for sceptical slogans.  It’s too tempting to cling to our anxiety rather than to risk ourselves to the mystery of love.  

On this Easter morning here’s an invitation to encounter Jesus in our place of sorrow or wherever it is that we’re stuck:  to be known by our name.

“Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you:  and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!


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