The Sunrise Experience
April 24, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1Early 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 from the tomb.
It is Easter Sunday morning, and it is a day to celebrate new life!
There is a phrase that really lights up for me about the Gospel this morning, and I'd like to share it with you. This is an absolutely electrifying, mysterious and wonderful Gospel which we read today - this gospel contains the very spiritual center of the Bible. Let's look at one particular verse of it together: it's found at the very beginning of our Easter scripture reading:
"Early on the first day of the week,
while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb
that the stone had been removed from the tomb." John 20:1
There was probably no one who loved Jesus more than Mary Magdalene. When a lot of the men who had pledged their faithfulness to Jesus had run away, Mary Magdalene and Mary (Jesus’ mother) along with several of the other women, stayed. They did not leave. Mary Magdalene had a special place in her heart for Jesus.
The Scripture tells us that early in the day, before the sun had risen, Mary went out to the tomb. Hers was a love that transcended death. She didn’t know how the tombstone would be rolled away so that they could follow the tradition of tending to the body of the loved one. She simply trusted that somehow, somehow, something good would happen.
While it was still dark, she started out. The only light was the flickering candle of love in her heart. Friend, have you experienced the darkness of the soul, the 3AM of the soul? Do you know the feeling of what it is like to be in the darkness long before the sun rises? That is what Mary Magdalene was experiencing, and that is what this Gospel is talking about. She was experiencing the dark night of the soul.
As she went out walking toward the tomb in the darkness, I wonder if she thought about all the wonderful moments with Jesus.
• Moments when all those people came to listen to her beloved Teacher;
• Was she thinking about the miracles that He had performed, and His kindness?
• The time when He broke bread and fed the hungry crowd,
• The time when He touched the hand of a recently deceased son, and the young man got up to embrace his grieving mother?
Was she thinking about the ways in which she had come to Him at the lowest point in her life, and how He transformed her from the inside, and made her see herself as a person of worth and dignity? The time she came to Him in another dark night of her soul, and His words filled her with inner light? Was she remembering times like this?
And now, Jesus had been taken away, was crucified, and died. He was placed in the tomb. Everything seemed to be all over. It was the dark night of the soul.
However, the Scripture goes on to say that when Mary got to the tomb, she was met with a breathtaking surprise. There was a sunrise experience. Just as the sun began to dawn on that Easter day, she saw that the stone had been rolled away, the tomb was empty - and Jesus was Risen, as he had predicted. She was filled with amazement and great joy. There was sunrise in her soul. It was the sunrise experience. God had taken something that looked hopeless and broken and made something hopeful and powerful for her!
God always has the last word, and the Last Word is always good.
What is the "Sunrise Experience"? It is simply this:
After the darkness, light.
After the rain, a rainbow.
After the storm, sunshine.
Friend, have you known the 3AM of the soul? Are you going through that difficult experience now? If so, please know that it is not the end. I have a simple prayer and wish for you this Easter day. My wish is that you would look for the sunrise experience in your heart. God has something good in store for you. God has something promising in store for you. God has a sunrise in store for you.
Isn't it amazing that God has built a sunrise into each day? My prayer is that every sunrise you see would remind you of the remarkable promise God has for you. God has not given up on you, so don’t give up on God. Sometimes, like Mary, we have to "set out" - even while it is "still dark," even when the only light we have to go by is the light of faith in the heart.
This Easter, embrace God's love in your heart. This is the time to re-embrace God. Now is the time to start again, and let the power that raised Jesus from the dead give you new energy, new hope, new courage, and new vision.
Just as the power of God restored Jesus to life and rolled the stone away from His tomb, let God restore hope and energy to you. Let God roll away your personal stone. Don’t let the stone of discouragement hold you back. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, will bring you a sunrise experience today. Look for it; be open to it. God's sunrise awaits you around the next corner, around the next moment.
I stand before you today with an overflowing grateful heart. A few weeks ago, as you well know, I was facing a surgery that could have had debilitating results, and we were all preparing for it. Had things gone as originally planned, I might not have been able to stand before you like this; I might have been flat on my back for a long time. But, thank Heaven for the prayers and encouragement of this congregation, I was led to get a very wise second opinion. Something that would have been very difficult and risky turned out to be resolved in a good and safe way. I praise God and I thank you for your prayers.
The dark night of your soul is not the end of the road, it's just a bend in the road. Even as God raised Jesus from the dead and restored the life and faith of Mary Magdalene, God has a sunrise experience in store for you. Embrace it; say yes to God. God has done great things before and He will do them again. May you be filled with all the light of God and the sunrise experience.
God loves you, I do, too. Happy Easter!
© 2011 Anthony J. Godlefski