While it was still dark – Jeremiah 31: 1-6, John 20:1-18

Have you noticed, in the last couple of weeks, when you’re watching a movie or tv show and there’s a crowd scene or the characters touch – unless they’re from the same household – you find yourself thinking, “That’s not good social distancing!” (Though the ABC anticipated this the other night by beginning a story with, “This story was filmed before social distancing rules were introduced!”) But you know what I mean. We are all now reading the world around us through a Covid 19 lens.

Which is why I found myself doing a Covid 19 reading of our gospel text for this morning. For instance, “Early in the morning, while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Did she go early because this travel was non-essential, and she was avoiding questions or was she “exercising”? Either way when she found the grave open and the stone removed, she ran to tell Peter and the other disciple. And they ran – an outdoor gathering of two – with appropriate social distancing (the other disciple outran Peter) to the tomb which they found empty, so they both eventually went in and then went home. But Mary followed – at a distance so it was not a gathering of three… Anyway, you get the point – right up to the moment when Jesus says, “Do not hold on to me.” Social distancing maintained.

But levity aside, our reading for this morning – a passage which has always described the hope and joy of the resurrection, the dawning realisation that the love of God is stronger than death – speaks this hope and joy and faith even more evocatively to us this year, this Easter, in the midst of this Covid 19 world-wide pandemic.

For the words that leapt out at me this Easter were…, “While it was still dark…” “Early,” verse 1 says, “on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed…”

What the writer of John does in these few words is tie this resurrection morning to the first morning of the world, to Genesis chapter 1, “In the beginning… darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” While it was still dark, the gospel writer is telling us, God was present. God was always, and is always, and will be always present. God is with us and the light is coming.

In the same way when the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, went into the tomb – and, verse 8, “saw and believed…” What did he believe, actually? For verse 9 tells us, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead”. He was still stumbling in the darkness, his understanding was not complete, but while it was still dark, the scriptures say, he believed. He stumbled on with the fragments of evidence and scripture and trust in the God he had until he saw the light – as all of us do.

And Mary, too, weeping in the garden. Weeping because the one she loved was dead. Weeping because all she had hoped for and worked for and lived for was now gone. Weeping because, now, even his body was gone – and her world – as people have said to me over the past two or three weeks – had been overturned. And yet, the question comes to her gently, not once but twice, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Yes, it is still dark, but God is present in the darkness. You may not recognise this presence at first. And you cannot hold onto this presence – you cannot stop it in its tracks – because it is unstoppable. But God is with us. Light is coming. You have caught a glimpse. You can say, “I have seen the Lord!”

The prophet Jeremiah in this pre-emptive passage of consolation for the people of Israel – yet to be defeated, yet to be scattered and exiled in Babylon, yet to return to the land… also speaks of this underlying hope, this underpinning reality of God’s presence, this undercurrent of God’s love, with the promise – they will find grace in the wilderness. It is not simply at the end of the journey – when they reach Zion – that God will be found. It is in the darkness, in the wilderness, on the way that they will find God’s presence and God’s grace.

And the same is true for us. We, too, will find grace in the wilderness, in the darkness.

Can I share with you where I have caught a glimpse of that grace in the last seven days?

It was in the breakout rooms that we had after the service last week (and particularly in the response to the breakout rooms that we had after the service last week!) All week I have spoken to people or heard people speak about their breakout room – how they met people they’d never met, or talked to people they’d never talked to before, how they could ‘literally,’ as one person told me, ‘now put a face to a name’ (because the name was at the bottom of the screen), the stories they’d heard, the stories they’d told, the things that had happened in the group…why their randomly selected breakout group was the best! (I heard that from several people – do not fear!)

And it is things like this – signs of God’s presence and grace – embodied in this community that have transformed this Easter’s darkness and wilderness into a holy week for me.

Yes, it is still dark. And it looks as though there are many months of darkness ahead – that we will stumble on not fully understanding for some time, that there will be weeping and loss and change, and yet, while it is still dark, God is with us and we are finding grace – grace in unexpected people and unexpected places – grace in reaching out to each other – grace that speaks of God’s everlasting reaching out to us. God is with us. Light will come.

As we sang on Friday:

Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, that never dies away.

Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, that never dies away.




Prayer of Intercession


Loving God, we come to you this Easter morning celebrating the joy of your resurrection,

the life and hope and grace we have found in you

that we share with each other

But we also come this Easter aware that it is a time of great uncertainty and fear

asking for you to kindle your light in our darkness.


We pray for an end to this virus and its terrible impact on so many.

We pray for those who are sick, and those who love them – we pray for the ones we know and the one we do not know.

May they know your peace and comfort and healing.

In this darkness, loving God, kindle your light.


We lift to you those in caring professions, in health.

We pray for those in our church – Lyle, Phillip, Sue, Kara, Anneke, Kristine, Becky and Tash and other friends and family too – as well as those who serve around our world.

May they know your strengthening, your guiding, your protection.

In this darkness, loving God, kindle your light.


We pray for the old and the young in our church,

for the children and parents finding new patterns for living and working together

and those cut off from family, or those living alone,

We pray especially for Max, Peter, May and Enos, Trevor, Eunice, Maureen, Grant and Val, Tony and Merle in care.

May they – and all others – know your joy, your love, your patience.

In this darkness, loving God, kindle your light.


We pray too for those who serve us in supermarkets or in all other essential industries.

May they know your protection.

And we pray for those who have lost their jobs or whose hours have been cut back

May they know your comfort, your peace and your provision for them.

In this darkness, loving God, kindle your light.


We pray for those guiding our country through this crisis

And we pray especially for those countries that do not have the resources we do

That people will be generous that governments will make good decisions,

that your hand will be mightily at work

May they know your courage, your leading, your divine intervention.

In this darkness, loving God, kindle your light.


Loving God, we bring ourselves to you

Our anxieties and uncertainty, our grief and fear

And we pray for a sense of your nearness and love, your grace, even in this darkness.

May we know that we are your people and you are our God.

In this darkness, loving God, kindle your light.