The Bible does not offer this detail but in my mind’s eye, the two women who approached the tomb of Jesus on that first Easter Day had candles in their hands. This seems important to me in how I picture the scene. In Matthew’s gospel, we are given these words to start this gospel’s description of the resurrection: “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” In the early dawn darkness, I imagine them holding candles, squinting to see their way, peering carefully as they seek to find their path to the tomb. The candles gently push back the darkness and make room for light. It is just a small light to begin with but a light that grows as the sun breaks the horizon… and as they were soon to discover an even greater light that breaks open the sealed tomb.
Candles in a dark space have this beautiful effect of transforming the setting. They offer simplicity in terms of a light source, but the effect is almost mesmerizing with the dancing of a single yellow flame. We Anglicans know this well, as candles figure predominantly in our worship. Candles are on our altars, offered at baptism, are lit at a funeral and of course are a central symbol to us at Easter, with our paschal candle. At the Easter Vigil we might sing these words of prayer to God in the Exsultet: “Accept this Easter candle. May it always dispel the darkness of this night! May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all creation, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.”
The candle becomes more than a light but becomes a symbol of life beyond life, hope in dispelling darkness, love that shatters finality. In the first chapter of the gospel of John, we can find these words: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (verses 3-5). It is this light that was discovered by the two Marys on that first Easter morning.
They set out early on that morning searching for the sealed tomb, searching for predictability and the expected. But what they found was not that. They found more than they expected. They found that in their journey, God had not finished with the situation. God was present and near, far nearer than perhaps they ever considered. The darkness of this world: the darkness of evil and death and violence and abuse was all destroyed by this light. The light of the empty tomb, the light of Easter, the light of resurrection.
The religious life, the walk of faith, is about coming closer to this light and letting it transform and reshape you. Mary and Mary, set out toward the tomb expecting only to come closer to the sealed tomb that contained the body of their beloved friend. But God showed them much more than that. That empty tomb was not an end but a beginning. A beginning of discovering that faith in Christ is not just believing in the resurrection but that it brings new life to every aspect of living. That God is calling us forward in response to the empty tomb, forward to live into this new life of forgiveness, compassion and grace. God is calling us to be Easter people; alive and awakened to the love of God which knows no bounds or limits.
The two Marys were changed by the empty tomb, and we are invited into that same light. A light so that we are changed to be filled by the love of God, changed to see God’s light in our own darkness, changed to be people of resurrection. May we live into this light.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Paschal candle - iStock-614615820