While It is Still Dark
While it is still dark…
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
This sentence is so important because it appears so many times in these early chapters of Genesis: the story is oriented around the idea that the work day begins in the evening. I have a hard time imagining a day that starts in the dark—for me, any time I have rested and woken up well after the sun comes up is a sign that I have slept well an am ready to start my day. On the surface, scripture seems to imply here that “day” equals “sun” and “sun” equals “good.”
For many of us, the times when we are awake in the middle of the night are described as “ungodly” hours. Either because we haven’t slept enough or we’re wide away and the rest of the world is, well, resting.
These “ungodly hours” serve to remind us that something is at work within us: something that is not content to rest.
“The earth was without form and void…
So this formless void (the earth) that looked like nothing — dark — meaningless — was catapulted into purpose and beginning when light touched its surface. But it is in the desolation that the Spirit waits…hovering over this formless void.
The presence of the Spirit tells us something is about to happen.
When we look at Genesis, we have to ask ourselves: What is God doing in the dark? Just because day and night have been separated, it didn’t make the night godless. Just because the earth was formless and void — didn’t mean nothing was happening…while the Spirit of God moves around the world — it’s quite the contrary. Everything that could ever mean anything is about to happen. Our ability to see and understand what is being done is only damped by night — and by the limitations of our vision in the dark...but surely, God is certainly up to something—well before light appears.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark. John 20:1
We rarely get to experience the night’s sky as nature intends it. In some cities, light pollution blocks out visibility and clarity of the night’s sky: we cannot see all of the stars. I remember when I got to see the milky way for the first time ever, I did not think it was real. My phone was not able to adjust adequately enough to capture it well — it wasn’t made to take pictures well in darkness; my camera settings would not allow for an image to appear. At least, not one that matched what my eyes were seeing.
In that moment, my eyes were strong enough to take in the majesty of the universe before my eyes in a way that a cellphone camera could not—how much more, then, would they be enriched when Jesus gives me the opportunity to see what he is up to while it is still dark.
As I was thinking about this message, this day and what it would be like to take about this important event, I came across a public service announcement, posted by The Junia Project (an organization that works provide educational resources to support women in ministry). The announcement went something like this: “Pastors, as you prepare for your message this Sunday, please note — Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. Thank you.”
Part of that comes from the association between two texts that have been lumped together to make this true….and Maybe it’s in part because of Mary’s affection for Christ and her closeness to him:
Mary Magdalene was from a town close to Galilee, where Jesus lived before starting his ministry. She was with him since the beginning, and like many of the women disciples…a lot of whom were named Mary, too, apparently—she heard his teachings, saw his miracles, and provided assistance to help keep Jesus’s ministry going.
But I think for Christians the hardest part of believing in Jesus isn’t believing that he rose again and is alive, but that he was a very, very, dead.
Mary saw Jesus die, and she was present at his burial, she had seen the very, very dead body of Jesus…And now, three days later, she shows up to finish the preparations for Jesus’s burial, which could not be completed because of the Sabbath!
What she finds is an open tomb with the giant stone, which was used to close it — rolled away. Mary’s heart is so broken. Her first thought isn’t that he was resurrected—when she goes to tell the disciples, she suggests that the grave was robbed. When the other disciples come running to see and they too find that the grave was empty. They walk away…But Mary stayed, weeping outside of the tomb.
I am questioning a lot about Mary right now. While the other disciples decided they couldn’t bare to look at the empty tomb, Mary seemed paralyzed by it. I think Mary is sitting the weight of the dreams which were broken for her when Jesus died—the dreams she would have wanted to at least have the chance to bury properly.
I am in my first semester of grad school and I am loving what I am learning. I am loving the new people I am finding myself around. I am loving the possibilities and open doors that are coming my way…but I am also having a hard time. A really hard time. A time that I am often unable to explain to those who haven’t been in seminary. Some of the things I am learning (as always) are breaking my heart and I am finding that there is death all around, expressing itself in new ways everyday.
Death is an ever present reality in the way my headaches, which persist daily, make it hard for me to read. Death is the lost wisdom tooth that literally fell out on its own, reminding me not only that I have a body: that body is trying to remind me of something.
There’s death in the disappearing hope I am trying to maintain for the future of the Church while we dissect and diagnose the sins of the past. There’s death in the broken relationships from being overworked, over-exhausted and running out of cares. There’s spiritual death in trying to understand God in the intricate folds of time and space, words and actions, meaning and meaninglessness— all while forgetting how to pray because I’m caught up in trying to understand who God is.
Deconstruction, yes, looks a lot like death.
Death seems final but dying is the waiting room we all sit in, anxiously, waiting for someone to call our name.
My heart feels heavy and it often feels like something I have to carry for myself. This call feels like something I have to carry for myself. And I wonder, if the weight of what I carry is leading me to a good death or a bad one….
Either way, I know one thing for sure: I don't like darkness.
I like things a certain sanitized way and I am getting closer and closer to the truth (or truths, because postmodernism) and it is dirty and it is not aesthetically pleasing to my artist eyes. Admittedly, I am discouraged, and when I am discouraged, I become cynical—
I have felt like Mary—waiting and weeping at the tomb. I’ve been so ashamed of my emotions—which often seem like a nuisance. I’ve treated them like something I had to get out of the way before I can contribute anything genuine to the world. I want to wait until the proverbial light comes on, because nothing good can come from my darkness.
I have tried to bury this. I am always trying to bury this. But I don’t see how I wrap it up and cover it with fragrances to make it smell any less like death and dying, like Mary was waiting to do.
I know that I asked to be here—to be led to this pain, when I asked God to break my heart for what breaks his heart. When I said I would follow his heartbeat wherever it led me and it led me here—to a place where I am not always sure that I see him, because of the tears in my eyes, the cynicism in my heart and the death in bones—
Just like Mary, whose heart is so broken she can't even tell it's him right away. How has despair, sadness, desperation, pain, heartbreak, anxiety, depression…dimmed the light of hope and your ability to see Jesus?
She doesn’t recognize him. But do we? So much of our time in worship revolves around glorifying the name of Jesus. It’s almost as if we are trying desperately to get his attention—and maybe we’ve missed the point. Perhaps, this whole time, he’s been as omnipresent as he has been from the beginning—well before God said let there be light.
Well before he said, “Mary.”
How many Christian songs do you know about the transformative power of Jesus’s name? How many songs do you know about the transformative power of Jesus saying your name?
Yes, my heart is weak, broken, bitter, cynical, sad...and searching. Like so many of us. But in the moment that I realize Jesus knows my name, as He knows every single one that is his—I respond to him, “teacher.”
Not because I see, but because I am seen. I hope to see. I hope to be teachable enough that I can learn his voice so well that when he says my name, it will sound like a secret song we share—the musical quality of his voice when he speaks it will signify to me that my savior lives—and so do I.
And when our hearts feel broken…. And when we are waiting, like Mary, to bury our dreams—And when that dream is staring us in the face and we cannot recognize through our hurt and through the darkness that exists in our world, in our communities, in our homes, in our families—let our eyes adjust, to let us hope to see what God is doing while it is still dark. To hear God say our name in a voice that we can only recognize because we’ve heard God speak so many times before.
Easter Sunday is a day when many people are celebrating resurrection. They might have painted the picture of this new day, with the sun as when it all began. But in truth, for many of us called into the way of Christ, it started with death and dying. It started with a starless sky, a night so thick eyes cannot see. It started with the desperation to bury your dreams, to give up hope, to walk away in disappointment.
It started with a Jesus who was very, very dead. But Jesus gives us eyes — so that we, the faithful, would not only see the sunrise, but he gives us eyes to see him even in the dark. Mary would have been content to walk out of that garden with his corpse. Only those desperately saved by Jesus know what feels like to cling so tightly to a dream. Instead, Jesus sent greeted Mary alive…making her the first to share the news of his resurrection to the world.
Like I said, some people wake up at these ungodly hours because something is at work within us…
For me, this is often anxiety. Which, if you have ever been anxious, you’ll understand—I have my questions for God, which I am asking now while it is still dark—temporally and temporarily. But I know that there is no shadow that God’s light cannot overcome, and in just a few hours, I will see the risen son.
He will see me.
He will say my name.
He will say your name.
And then…every seemingly ungodly moment, hour or day that was once dark without him, would only reveal that he was always working at something.
This post has been adapted from my sermon on Easter in April 2018.