Easter Sunrise at Humpback Rocks – 23 March 2008

“Hark, the Herald”

John 20: 1- 18

I was studying a painting by Giovanni Savoldo this week, called Mary Magdalene. She’s wearing a light, shimmery, almost silvery “hoodie.” You know how female Biblical characters are always represented, with long flowing robes, parts of which seems to drape over their heads? Well, she’s wearing one of those and sort of has one knee drawn up under her chin and she’s hugging that leg to herself, with her head balanced on her knee.

Her face is turned toward the viewer, her gaze unwavering, her expression serene and satisfied. She looks like she knows something and she makes me want to find out what it is.

Behind her in the close background of the painting is a gaping, black archway – a doorway into nothingness. Next to her there is a small pitcher, also shimmery in the light.

Behind her in the far background is the sunrise, just barely beginning to happen. Clouds are scattering on the horizon and the new light is reflecting on water, clouds, and sky. You can’t quite see the sun but this is the moment just before it emerges fully. It’s still a collection of bright light peeking out from the earth, about to startle us with its brilliance when it inches up past the horizon.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about this painting is that the shimmering light on her “hoodie,” the shimmery light on the pitcher, the light that illumines her face – none of it comes from the direction of the sunrise. In fact, the light cast on Mary comes from the opposite direction. It would be as if, sitting here on the top of Humpback Rocks, you were to turn your back to the sun but still your face would somehow be illuminated from a light source in the west.


The verse that stayed with me as I was preparing for Easter this year was verse 18 from John’s Easter story: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her” (John 20: 18). It’s the very last verse we heard this morning and it’s the word “announced” that did it for me. I could almost picture Mary blowing a trumpet before announcing to the other disciples what she had seen. “Hear ye, hear ye…”

She announced it. Announcing connotes proclamation, declaration, and publicity. This is something she has no doubt about and she is not seeking any approval or corroboration. She is simply telling it like it is. She is announcing it to the rest of the disciples – and they will be wise to listen.

As this verse played over in my mind the word “herald” came to me. Maybe that’s where I got the trumpet image. Here’s Mary, the herald. Hark!

Here’s Mary, who moments before was so scared and distraught with crying that she wouldn’t follow Peter and the other disciple into the tomb, but just stood crying outside in the garden. Here’s Mary, who through teary eyes fresh from hearing her name called, recognized Jesus where an instant before she had seen a gardener. Here’s Mary, fresh from a tomb which somehow gave birth to new life, ready to tell everyone that everything Jesus promised is already coming true. Here she is, the herald about to bring good news to the entire world.

Hark, the herald!

Charles Wesley wrote that well-loved Christmas hymn, “Hark! The herald angels sing.” If I could start us off on the right key, you could probably all sing along, at least through the first verse. But listen to the words of the final verse:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Fitting for Christmas and Easter… Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.

I go back to the painting I spent time with this week. There is still the matter of that unexpected light, shining from a direction opposite the rising sun. Where is the light on Mary’s face coming from?

For all of us, who camped out and got up exceedingly early to be here on this spot to see the sunrise, what an odd notion that on Easter morning the brightest light comes from another direction. Or is it?

Easter morning changes the world as we know it. The last will be first and the first will be last. Death has no authority anymore. The sting is gone. The old rules don’t apply. Christ is risen and lives! Risen with healing in his wings!

No matter where we were last night, this is a new day! No matter that you were just crying in the garden, you are about to be the ambassador herald to the world.

Savoldo’s Mary – and John’s – looks like she knows something and she makes me want to find out what it is. Her face is lit up with it.

Like Mary, like Moses coming down from Sinai, will your face shine coming down from this mountain today? Will you announce with your face and the whole of your life that a new day has dawned?

Hark, the herald. Listen! Everything Jesus promised is already coming true.

Thanks be to God!

(c) Deborah E. Lewis