“Early 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.” (John 20:1)
“It was a dark and stormy day and the sundial showed the ninth hour.” If someone were writing about the death of Jesus, they might be tempted to tell about the hour of his death with an opening line like this. It’s close to the truth. All three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record the time with similar words:
- “From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Matthew 27:45)
- “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mark 15:33).
- “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the after- noon…” (Luke 23:44).
John’s Gospel does not mention the time of Jesus’ death; instead, John adds other important details about his last hours on earth.
In addition to the time (three o’clock was the ninth hour of the day as the Romans reckoned it), what stands out in these accounts is the darkness. This is an unnatural darkness, a night that shows up in the middle of the day.
This is the darkest hour in human history. God’s only Son, Jesus of Nazareth, is put to death by God’s beloved human beings. Once again, it seems, death has triumphed. Once again, injustice pre- vails. Once again, human cruelty is on display in a death most awful—crucifixion. Once more, it seemed as if people would go on living in the darkness of a world so sick with sin that it puts to death the innocent, the blameless, the unblemished Lamb of God. For two more days, until Sunday morning, the dark- ness had full reign.
And then, as we might tell the story, comes two of my favorite words in the Bible: “But God.”
How else can we relate what happened next without these two marvelous and precious words? Jesus was dead. They put him in a tomb and sealed it. The Romans and Jewish religious authorities alike believed that would be the end of his story. Like so many would-be Messiahs who came before him, this Jesus would be forgotten and the world would go on just like before. Nothing more to see here, Roman subjects—just one more dead Jewish rabble-rouser taken care of by the brutal efficiency of Rome. You can go back to your homes now and thank almighty Caesar for preventing a further disturbance of the pax Romana (Roman peace).
From all appearances, death had won in that dark hour.
But God—there’s just no other way to say it—had other plans.
And the rest, as they say, is “His Story.” God raised Jesus from the dead, giving new life to him and to all who believe in him. Because He lives, we can face however many tomorrows come our way.
We’ll continue to face the darkness in many different forms and at different times in our lives. But God has given us the light of new life in Jesus the Son, who overcomes the darkness. He is the true “Sonrise” that we celebrate this Easter, every Easter, every Sunday, every day of our lives.
He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen!