We have such an interesting relationship with the dark, don’t we?
If we think about it, most of us are taught to fear it. The truth is when it is so dark we cannot see our hand in front of us, that can be pretty scary. Or have you ever entered a completely dark room like a sanctuary or a big space? It’s kind of creepy, right?
The sanctuary at the church I used to serve didn’t have any windows. Their biggest worship service of the year was a Tenebrae and they designed their sanctuary to allow it to be completely dark. It was arranged theater style with a set of lights on one side of it and the only other lights on the opposite side. So, if you wanted light to walk through it, you had to turn lights on and then turn them off on the way out. One time I decided to be a good steward and not turn the lights on and just walk through the dark. It was pretty creepy and I never did it again!
If you don’t fear the darkness, maybe you’ve been taught that only bad things can happen in the dark. Someone may have told you before that nothing good happens in the peak hours of darkness between 12:00 and 5:00 in the morning.
From the beginning of time, people have juxtaposed darkness and light as this dualistic thing, set in opposition to each other. One simply must be bad in order for the other to be good.
Our favorite words from MLK ring out in our minds, darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. The heart of these words ring true, but again darkness is linked to hate.
Many places in the Scriptures uphold the light as superior. “Those who live in the darkness have seen a great light.” (Matthew 4:16) “I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.” (Eccelsiastes 2:13). Jesus even refers to himself as the light of the world and then challenges us to be that same light.
And yet, even knowing all these things, we find ourselves sitting here in the darkness and it feels holy too.
The season of Lent is a journey through the darkness. It’s a time in the life of the church where we have chosen to enter into the darkness to throw off any sort of notion that everything is all rainbows and sunshine, and acknowledge that we are sinners who stand in need of grace and mercy. It is a period of reflection that is fuel for our souls, and it happens in the dark.
The last few days of Holy Week have stretched us even further down this road. Starting with Maundy Thursday, the church has asked us to enter into a pretty dark place. A place that starts with a bittersweet meal shared among friends, that leads to betrayal, and anguish for Jesus. After, we enter into the darkest of places with Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial. Tonight, we hear the stories of old wrestling with all that has happened and holding it sacred as we await the light.
So, that tells me that there must be some value to the darkness. Something spiritual about dark places. The darkness allows for our minds and bodies to settle into rest after a long day. The stars are only revealed if it is dark. Film has to be developed in a dark room. And while I don’t have a green thumb, I do know if you want to keep your poinsettia healthy all year long it needs at least 13 – 16 hours of uninterrupted darkness every day. In Baptism, we are first buried in the darkness of Christ’s death, and then we share in his resurrection.
One commentator puts it this way:
“Perhaps it is not good to dispel the darkness of the death of Jesus too quickly. We naturally move on to wonder at the love of God revealed in the death of Jesus or to translate its meaning into sacrificial terms or to press on to the next chapter - the resurrection. But part of the power of the gospel is that it calls us to tarry at the cross and then return home beating our breasts with those whose hopes seemed to have died there. Only by witnessing the darkness of his death and despair of the loss of hope can we fully appreciate the joy of his resurrection.”
So, instead of seeing darkness as something to fear, what if we saw it as something to embrace? What if we saw it for the truth-teller that it is?
Darkness has a way of revealing our character. You see the darkness hones and teases out the places where God needs to work most, and yes that can be scary but necessary. Our response to it can show us what we are made of. The stories of God’s people we have heard tonight – the parting of the Red Sea and the fiery furnace were dark moments for God’s people and we see them endure with faith and trust in God.
We also see moments in this passion week where darkness seems to win. Judas betrays, the disciples sleep and Peter denies. The Jewish authorities scheme. Pilate cowers. The crowd yells. Jesus is beaten and killed, and the sky turns to night. His followers scatter. Darkness has proven to be too much to bear.
But there is one group of people who aren’t afraid. They enter into the darkness with a sense of duty and boldness. There is work to be done and nothing will stop them from honoring Jesus and preparing his body properly. The women come to the tomb early while it is still dark outside, scared but steady, because they know that the darkness has provided for them a place of safety to come and attend their Savior. Their willingness to carry on through the darkness allows them to experience resurrection firsthand.
Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor describes this moment in this way: “As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about this part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. It happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air… New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
Maybe instead of seeing darkness and light in direct opposition to one another: one is bad and the other good, we should consider that each have been given to us as a gift from our Creator.
On the first day, God created the light and kept the dark. God gave both of them a name. There was evening and there was morning on that first day. And both were good. So good.
This Holy Saturday invites us to dig into the uncomfortable unknown of this weird in-between space that Jesus’ followers found themselves in. It challenges us to embrace what the darkness may be able teach us and how it can reveal the light that is within us. Without it we don’t truly understand the fullness of God. Without Good Friday, there is no Easter. It is always darkest before the dawn. Amen.