No More Night
Grace United Methodist Church
Easter Sunrise Service
April 24, 2011
John 1: 1-5 (NIV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Darkness is a funny thing, isn’t it? We have to have darkness, it helps us get better sleep. Sometimes in the midst of a headache or an especially sunny day, we long for a few moments of darkness. Darkness is good for a movie or a haunted house. But then again, too much darkness can be a bad thing as well. In the long, dark days of winter, we yearn for the Spring and more hours of daylight. Darkness can be scary, and oppressive, and depressing. And it can hold great power over us as well.
Several years ago, one of my cousins took a year off of school and work to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Now, this is on my “bucket list,” and so I was eager to hear of his experience when he finally completed his journey and returned home. I remember him saying that he would not recommend hiking the whole trail all at once, but rather hiking it in small increments; a good piece of advice I will hold on to. The other thing I remember was how early he went to bed that night we were talking. When I asked him why he was going to bed so early, my cousin said that his body was now in that cycle. “Because,” he said, “when it gets dark out on the trail, there’s nothing to do, so you just go to sleep.”
As my cousin made his long journey, I think he must’ve experience darkness much like the people of Jesus’ day; in a way that we modern suburbanites do not. The people of Jesus’ day did not have the modern conveniences that you and I have; no electric lamps, street lights, spot lights, or bright stadium lighting. They used oil lamps in their homes and businesses, which produced meager light at best. In fact, so lacking were the lighting options of Jesus’ day (even up to the invention of electricity barely more than a century ago), that people’s schedules revolved around the rising and setting of the sun. Much like my cousin on his Appalachian Trail trek, people were up with the sun in the morning, and often when night fell they would go straight to bed. And as I’m sure many of us know, when people are drowned in darkness, they long for the light. In fact, people in Jesus’ day so valued light that they had special celebrations centered around light.
As a part of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews celebrated a ceremony called “The Illumination of the Temple.” It took place in the court of the women. The court was very dark, surrounded by deep galleries; in the center stood four great candelabras. When darkness descended, each of the candelabras were lit, which in turn lit up the courtyard. During the night, the priest and the people danced and sang songs of joy for the light in the midst of darkness. It is with this understanding that John introduces us to Jesus, and it is in this context that Jesus later says, “I am the light of the world.” In essence, John’s message says to us, “The earthly light can only brighten up this courtyard, but Jesus brings light to the whole world.” And that is what we celebrate on Easter morning, the light of the world dawning in our midst; that is what we so keenly recognize as we gather for worship at the hour of the Easter sunrise.
Easter Sunday is the day we remember Christ’s resurrection, the dawning of the light of life that came through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and ultimately, his resurrection. As we watch the sunrise on Easter morning and light the whole world, we are reminded of Jesus, who is the light of the world. And more than just the sun that rises in the morning, filling the earth with light, Jesus is also the Son that rises in our lives, dispelling the darkness that so often overshadows us. We’ve all experienced such darkness and shadows; the darkness of fear, depression, or addiction; the darkness of unemployment or financial difficulty; the darkness of broken relationships or death. And yet with the hope of the risen Christ dawning in our hearts, the light of life begins to dispel such darkness. All of these issues somehow look different when held to the light of Christ, and we gain new perspective in the eternal hope that all shall be well and that nothing is too great for God in Christ Jesus to overcome!
When light shines, darkness is no more. We could be in the darkest of dark places, and lighting one single match would make it dark no more. This is a simple fact of physics. And when the light of Jesus Christ shines in the world, goodness begins to overtake evil. “In all this amazing world is there a more amazing thing that the invincibility of goodness? Everything seems against it, yet it refuses to be killed.” Just when Jesus seems dead for good, he is resurrected to new life. “The night falls and grows ever blacker; and then comes the dawn.” And how is this done? Because this fight is not our fight, but God’s; and God is in it with us. No matter what darknesses might overshadow our lives – depression, addiction, fear, in everything God is with us; forever. And that is the promise of the resurrection! On that first Christmas day, God came to be with us; and on that first Easter day, God showed us that he will be with us forever (if we will stick with Christ); through thick and thin, no matter what. And the great promise of the resurrection is that God in Christ Jesus has won; evil has been defeated and goodness cannot be conquered, and must win in the end. Even death does not have the final word!
Yet, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning is not just about the darkness that is dispelled now; it is about Christ’s life-giving light dawning in our hearts once and for all. What we celebrate on Easter is Christ coming to stand against the darkness for all time; such that even when the shadows seem to creep into our lives once again, Christ is still there to stand against it. There is an excerpt from John Bunyan’s novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which illustrates this quite well. It goes something like this (adapted):
“Then I saw in my dream that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where there was a fire burning against a wall, and a person standing by it, always casting water on it, to quench it; yet the fire was always burning higher and hotter.
Then Christian asked, ‘What does this mean?’
The Interpreter answered, ‘This fire is the work of grace that is formed in the heart. The one that casts water upon it, to extinguish it and put it out, is the Devil; but as you see, the fire still burns higher and hotter, and you shall also see the reason for that.’ So the Interpreter took Christian to the backside of the wall, where he saw a man with a bowl of oil in his hand, which he also threw continuously, but secretly, into the fire.
Then Christian asked, ‘What does this mean?’
The Interpreter answered him, ‘This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart, against which the Devil’s work can do nothing, and the souls of Christ’s people prove gracious still.”
The joy of Easter morning is that death has been conquered. Christ has risen to rule in our hearts and lives for all time. And if we give Christ a place in our hearts, his light will shine in us, even against all the greatest trials of evil; even in the most difficult times. When we truly believe this, Christ’s light will not only begin to dispel the darkness, but his life will transform our lives as well!
A Hindu trader in India once asked a missionary, “What do you put on your face to make it shine?” With surprise the man of God answered, “I don’t put anything on it!” His questioner began to lose patience and said emphatically, “Yes, you do!” All of you who believe in Jesus seem to have it. I’ve seen it in the towns of Agra and Surat, and even in the city of Bombay.” Suddenly the Christian understood, and his face glowed even more as he said, “Now I know what you mean, and I will tell you the secret. It’s not something we put on from the outside but something that comes from within. It’s the reflection of the light of Christ in our hearts.”
You see, when the light of Christ dawns in our lives, it’s not just that the darkness goes away, but that a new life is born with new hope and new opportunities. And if we make room for Christ in our lives, his light begins to shine even through us! My prayer this Easter morning is that as the sun rises; it’s not just about the end of the night. I pray that as we celebrate the resurrection this morning, it’s not just about something that Christ did a long time ago. I pray that this Easter day, we celebrate what Christ is doing in our lives each and every day; shining his light of life, dispelling the darkness of our troubled world, and transforming us into beacons of love and light whose faces glow radiantly as we share the message of Christ’s life with all people!