The Third Sunday of Easter: April 10, 2016
The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
The chocolate is gone. The Easter flowers have wilted. The Alleluias fall flat on our ears. By now, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is old news. The joy of Eastertide has dwindled in the midst of the madness and mundane of city life.
Much like the disciples in John’s Gospel today, we find ourselves settling back into the familiar. As we retreat back into our ordinary lives and routines, we so easily forget what life is about now that Christ is risen. Much like the disciples, we find ourselves still stuck in our boats, floating nowhere in the night—still floundering about and feeling uneasy in unsettled waters—still drawing up empty nets. Like the disciples, we can get stuck on the disappointments and failures and forget that Jesus is with us and we have four weeks left to celebrate!
In this season of Easter—the Gospel stories remind us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ does not promise us protection from doubt, despair, dissolution, fear, and failure. The resurrection does not grant us immunity from suffering. Instead, these stories tell us that the true joy of Easter rests in knowing that in moments of deepest darkness, Jesus continually appears. That in our moments of deepest darkness, joy and love and new life are possible.
Throughout Easter, Jesus continually appears in such moments of doubt, despair, dissolution, fear, and failure. We see this at the tomb when Jesus appears to Mary in her grief. We see this along the road to Emmaus, when Jesus remains present with the lost and wandering disciples and reveals himself in the reading of Scripture and breaking of bread. We see this in the locked room when Jesus appears to the disciples granting peace in the midst of fear. We see this as Jesus reassures Thomas as he reveals the depths of love present in his own resurrected wounds. And we see this as the dawn breaks upon the shore revealing the abundant life that is possible when we listen and follow the risen Lord.
Each of these Easter stories reminds us to have courage and hold onto the true joy of the resurrection—the joy that no matter how long or dark or deep the night, the dawn will always appear. The joy that within our darkest nights, Jesus kindles a fire that never dies away—a fire that will guide, heal, nurture and strengthen us for the road ahead.
My first job out of college, I worked at a mental health crisis and drug rehabilitation center. It was there I learned from my clients how to hold onto joy in the midst of darkness and despair. If there’s anyone who knows about dark nights of doubt, despair, dissolution, fear, and failure it is someone who has struggled with addiction. Every day, they must rise to face the same familiar shadows of their darkest nights; every day they must make the conscious choice to trust and hope in something other than themselves alone.
In my work, I had the privilege to walk alongside these individuals as they began their journey towards recovery. For twenty-eight days, I would listen to their stories, remind them of the simpler joys of life, and show them healthier ways to cope with the stress and strain and pain of life.
At first, I thought my work was about tending and feeding and loving them. But somewhere along those 28 day journeys, I realized that they were tending and feeding and loving me too. Sitting with my clients in twelve step meetings, in group sessions, at meals, and during activities, I witnessed appearances of the resurrection—watching people open up and share their stories of struggle and recovery in an atmosphere of transparency and nonjudgmental listening, suddenly, a room filled with brokenness and pain became a pathway for new growth and healing. If that isn’t a resurrection appearance, I don’t know what is.
Walking with those in recovery showed me how to see the appearance of the resurrection more clearly in my own life. Hearing their stories of resurrection reshaped my own way of thinking and inspired me to live more fully and deeply into joy each day.
These blessed people who allowed me to join them on their 28-day journey of floundering around in boats in the dark showed me how my own dark nights could become opportunities for deeper growth and deeper connection. How my own dark nights could become opportunities to recognize the dawn of the resurrection. How all our dark nights can become opportunities to know and love God more simply, more purely, more deeply.
The pattern of moving from the dark night of doubt, despair, dissolution, fear, and failure to the dawn of hope and joy is not just a pattern for those recovering from addiction. It is a pattern we all follow in the wake of Christ’s resurrection.
We all have waves that overwhelm us in the night when we can’t seem to recognize that the presence of God is with us. We all have times when our seas grow unsettled—we all have times when we fail to see the value within ourselves—when we lack faith in others and in God. And when you feel like this try to imagine that we’re all like frail boats on the sea; just scanning the night for that great guiding light, waiting and hoping and holding onto the joy of the resurrection.
This Eastertide if you are like me and find yourself retreating back to your boat in the night, if you find yourself lost and floundering and failing, be bold, be bold and have courage to put out your nets even though nothing has come your way.
In the face of a thousand failures, try something new and unconventional—have courage to cast your net to the other side. Have the courage to open your eyes to a new dawn breaking over the horizon—to leap headlong into a new way of living even though the dark nights of the past may linger. Have courage to gather around the fire—to embrace joy and love in community even though the next day you may find yourself hungry, lost, and alone at sea. Have courage to trust that your worn nets can hold onto the joy of new and abundant life offered by God.
This Eastertide be bold, have courage—hold onto joy because in our darkest moments Jesus is already with us. And it is within these dark moments that the resurrection continually appears. Amen.
Sermon on ‘Finding Light in the Dark: Hope Inside Desperate Discourse by Karyn Wiseman.
“Dark Night of the Soul,” Saint John of the Cross.
“Three Truths about the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’” by Chuck DeGroat – Christianity Today.
The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connections Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth by Gerald G. May (Harper One, 2005).
‘Jubilee’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter.