Early in the Morning – Sunrise Service

“Early in the Morning”
John 20: 1 -18
Rev. Dr. Jill A. Kirchner-Rose
April 1, 2018

Are you a lark, an owl, or a hummingbird? Larks are early risers, up at dawn; larks are the kind of people who love Easter sunrise services. Owls are late night birds. They have a difficult time making it to an Easter sunrise service and may even be later for the 10 a.m. Easter service. And hummingbirds are in between the larks and owls. 1 in 10 people are larks. 2 in 8 people are owls. Most of are hummingbirds. According to recent studies, there is good news for larks. Studies show that larks (morning people) tend to be happier, more productive and may be nicer – that is, more agreeable and conscientious. After the owls heard about this study, they did their own research and found that owls tend to be smarter, wealthier, and healthier. One owl said he does 10 sit-ups when he wakes up. He sits up every time the alarm goes off and hits the snooze button and then lays back down. He does this 10 times every morning.

In the Bible, we tend to encounter mostly larks. Abraham rose early in the morning. Jacob rose early in the morning Moses rose early in the morning. Joshua rose early in the morning. Samuel rose early in the morning. David rose early in the morning. And today we read that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning.

Morning represents new life, hope, brightness, joy. In the book of Genesis, in chapter 1, we read, “And God created evening and morning another day.” Had I been the author of Genesis, I would have reversed those words. I would have written “And God created morning and evening another day.” But the author of Genesis insists that God created evening and morning another day… as if to say that God moves us from evening to morning, from dusk to dawn, for sunset to sunrise, from death to new life. No wonder there are so many larks in the Bible who rise early in the morning.

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark. Dark with Peter’s denial, dark with Judas betrayal, dark with the disciples’ grief and anguish and heartache. Mary is the last to leave Golgotha and the first to arrive at the grave.   Mary comes to bid farewell to the one man who gave her reason to hope and dream.  But those hopes; those dreams are now sealed in the tomb.


I wonder when she awoke that morning whether she had second thoughts about getting out of bed.  I wonder if she just wanted to pull the covers over her head and give up on life.  Whether she was tempted to or not, I am glad she didn’t quit.  That would have been tragic.  For we know something she didn’t.  She thought she was alone.  But she wasn’t.  She thought her journey went unnoticed.  But she was wrong.  God knew.  God was watching her walk up the mountain.  God was measuring her steps.  God was smiling at her heart and thrilled at her devotion.  God had a surprise waiting for her!  (Max Lucado, God Still Moves Stones, pg. 41).


As the author of Genesis writes, “There was evening and there was morning another day.” Oh, our pain may be abundant, but it is not eternal. Our despair is profound, but it is not final. Death is real, but it does not have the last word. For God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will no longer be sadness, nor sorrow, nor death any longer. “Behold!” says God, “I make all things new!” Just like the morning!


Early in the morning, Mary went to the garden. How appropriate it was a garden. How fitting that we find ourselves in a garden early in the morning. It is significant that a garden provides the context for the Easter miracle.


The garden is one of the framing images of the Bible story. The garden signals nature at its best, human well being at its best, spiritual reality at its best. From Genesis to Revelation, the stories we tell of God begin and end with gardens. God creates human beings and places them in a garden and it is paradise. That is what Eden means…paradise. We gave the middle name “Eden” to our daughter – because she reminds us of the Garden of Eden. Gardens symbolize abundant provision, beauty, harmony achieved, love triumphant, new life. I have experienced plants dying, and just when I think they are completely dead, they surprise me with coming back to life. Early in the morning (which is quite symbolic itself), Mary comes to the garden. This passage is rich with metaphor.


There are many similarities between the Garden of Eden and the Garden of the Resurrection. The first garden accommodates the first Adam. The Easter garden accommodates the second Adam. Jesus rises from the earthen tomb as the new Adam or resurrected adamah from the soil. Adamah is the Hebrew word for dirt. Jesus is the resurrected adamah. George Bernard Shaw says, “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.”


Interestingly, Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener. Notice, she did not mistake him for a warrior, a king or a battle-weary victor. She mistook him for a gardener. There is profound irony in this. For Jesus is in fact the Gardener. Jesus returns to Mary as the divine Gardener walking in the garden of creation, symbolic of Eden resurrected. Tending earth is sacred work.


There are similarities between the Garden of Eden and the Garden of the Resurrection, but there is one important difference. We read in the book of Genesis that after Adam eats of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, after he disobeys God, he tries to quickly cover himself. Hiding behind his covering – no longer soul and body naked before God. But in the Garden of the Resurrection, we see that Jesus’ linen covering is tossed aside. Jesus redeems us – letting us know that we can stand vulnerable, fully before God once again.


Early in the morning, Mary goes to the Garden.  The garden for the gardener Jesus is the human soul. Planting seeds of love, bringing forth new life no matter how dry the soil of our soul. The poem that Rev. Petra read says this, “You wizard of astonishment, you springtime of wildflowers in greened up dead fields.”


How fitting that we worship early in the morning in the garden in springtime with the greening of the earth. Christ is risen and the whole world comes alive. And how fitting that we worship on April Fools Day – for this is the greatest joke of all – the one we thought was dead is alive! Jesus is alive and he brings new life to us, too.


Tony Campolo, a popular speaker, tells this great story about an African-American funeral service.  His best friend from college, Clarence, had died at nineteen years old.  The pastor preached this incredible sermon about resurrection from dead.  And towards the end of his sermon, he went over to the open casket and he began to say, “Clarence!  Clarence!”  He spoke with authority.  “Clarence,” he said, “there were a lot of things we should have said to you that we never said to you.  We’re going to say them to you now.”  And he went down a list of all these great and wonderful things that Clarence had done for Jesus and for others in the name of Jesus.  And when he finished he said, “That’s it, Clarence!  That’s it!  There’s nothing more to say.  And when there’s nothing more to say, there’s only one thing to say.  Good night.  Good night, Clarence.”  He grabbed the lid of the casket and he slammed it shut.  It was quite dramatic.  A shock went over the congregation.  And as the minister lifted his head, the congregation could see that there was a smile on his face.  He said, “Good night, Clarence!  Good night, Clarence.  Because I know that God is going to give you a good morning!”  And the choir stood up and began to sing, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory.  Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory.  Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory — children of the Lord.” People were up on their feet.  They were hugging each other.  They were dancing in the aisle.  They knew that they wanted to be a part of a church that could turn a funeral into a party.


That’s the kind of God we worship — a God who turns a sunset into a sunrise;   a God who turns dusk into dawn, a God who turns crucifixion into a resurrection, a God who turns death into new life.


Whether you are a lark, an owl, or a hummingbird, this is something for us all to celebrate! Amen.