Monday, March 24, 2008

Twilight Sunrise

"In the bonds of Death He lay Who for our offence was slain; But the Lord is risen to-day, Christ hath brought us life again, Wherefore let us all rejoice, Singing loud, with cheerful voice, Hallelujah!" - Martin Luther

As a fifth grader my class took a trip to Mammoth caves in Kentucky. At one point in the tour, the tour guide had us all in one particular part of the cave and turned out the lights to show us what true darkness really looked like. If you have ever been in a similar situation, you know that real darkness, the true absence of light, is pretty scary, and the hope and knowledge that the lights will come back on takes the edge off of the fear, the darkness just an experiment. But in those moments of darkness is the helplessness and fear of a life dependent on someone else for the light of safety and rescue.

Darkness is one of those things which is experienced in isolation. But real darkness is not relegated to the caverns of Kentucky. Light and life seem to go hand in hand in the metaphysic of human existence and experience.

The poet Dylan Thomas wrote his famous poem about the death of his father, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight, with those same allusions of light vs. death:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It is no doubt that the death of those close to us leaves a black hole of darkness from which it is difficult to rise. It is little wonder that at the moment Jesus died there was complete darkness for 3 hours. That darkness must have given temporary pause to the priests, scribes, and Romans who had sentenced Jesus to death, making them question what they had done. But then came the ninth hour, and the lights came on, and all seemed basically right with the world. The sun would rise tomorrow, just like it had every other day.

But not so with the disciples. The black hole created by the death of Christ was huge, and lingered way beyond the temporary darkness witnessed by all. While others went about their passover feasts and festivities, mocking this man that had thought he was the Son of God. Like the rest, the death of Christ had caused those who had believed in Christ to wonder why they had followed such an obviously deluded man. They hunkered down in fear, expecting any moment that those who had killed Jesus were coming for them. In those days, death was their constant companion, and their fear of reprisal for following Jesus was real.

The black hole was particularly tough for the remaining eleven. These disciples were personally as crushed as the dreams of their glory of being the advisors to the new king of Israel. You will recall earlier the Bar Zebedee boys had asked to be on Christ's right and left side when he came into his kingdom. Yet on the day He died, to his right and left were two criminals receiving the penalty of their government for their crimes. Nowhere to be found were the Zebedee boys, having saved their own necks and left Jesus to die.

Little did these disciples know in those two dark days that death would stalk them the rest of their lives, but the fear of it would be a thing of the past. They would meet the resurrected Christ, and know that death is not the end, but only the beginning. So shattering was their meeting with the resurrected Lord, that they went forth, hoping to die for his name. No longer would they hide in fear, for there was nothing the priests, the scribes, the Romans could do to them to hurt them.

Only through the resurrection, the sure knowledge that death has no power to kill, is there true freedom to live. And only when you know the resurrected Christ, can you face the darkness with certainty.

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor 15:55-57).

Death is no longer the journey into the night. And Easter is the reminder to us that death is as momentary and essential as birth, but is no longer something to be feared. For Christ Himself is our life. The dark caves of Kentucky reveal nothing of the truth of Christ, but the inability to find Him on our own. Thanks be to God, He has gone there before us.


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