The Lightening Darkness

We are now deep in the middle of Lent. The hymns are all in minor keys. The readings are solemn. We are hearing and talking and thinking a lot about sin, suffering, death—and purification. On March 4, we heard about Jesus purifying the temple by driving out the merchants and money changers with an improvised whip and then comparing his own death and resurrection to tearing down and rebuilding the temple (John 2:13-22). On March 11, we will hear about Jesus predicting how he will be “lifted up” (crucified) as a sacrificial death (John 3:14-22). We began Lent with an unsubtle reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We end Lent on Good Friday when the sun’s light fails, the earth shakes, and the curtain of the temple is torn in two from the top (heaven) to the bottom (earth) as God incarnate dies in the most brutal and humiliating way the Romans could devise. It is a time of dark and violent images.

But the hours of daylight during Lent lengthen by about two minutes each day—an incremental, almost imperceptible change; a mere two minutes out of the 1440 minutes in each 24-hour day. The sun rises about a minute earlier and sets about a minute later. But, between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year, we gain seventy-nine minutes of sunlight.

We humans have a tendency not to notice that growing light. We often look for darkness, and like the inexorable gravity of a black hole, let ourselves be pulled deeper and deeper into it. We also know, but forget, how darkness distorts our vision—we lose color, depth perception, and contrast. Things no longer appear as they are. Scientists who study outer space identify black holes by the way that they distort space, time and light itself. The profound gravity of their darkness literally sucks in all light within their grasp, the light vanishing in utter darkness. For centuries, Christians blamed “the Jews” for killing Jesus, our vision distorted by the darkness of that death and unable to see that without that death there would be no resurrection. For millennia, we have condemned Judas for betraying Jesus—not seeing that without that betrayal there would be no Easter.

Pay attention to the growing light of these days. It will not be long before an unimaginably bright light flashes in that dark cave and rolls away the stone. That light – the light that grows a minute at a time during this season of Lent – changes everything. It changed our world forever in ways that we are still coming to understand. In John 16:12, Jesus himself told us that the illuminating power of that resurrection would grow over time, telling his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  Just as the energy and light from the Big Bang are still expanding outward, Jesus’ illuminating light and energy continues to grow and expand from that first Easter morning. The darkness is a tick of the clock at a time, receding. The light is incrementally illuminating things for us a bit more each day—if we only allow ourselves to perceive it.

Lent itself is perhaps a metaphor for that process of illumination over millennia that began on that bright spring morning in Jerusalem. We enter Lent with solemn reminders of our mortality—we enter the tomb on Ash Wednesday and are drawn into that distortive darkness. Then, the light grows every day, bit by bit, and on Easter morning we hopefully see things a bit more clearly, a bit brighter, a bit more illuminated by the light that changed everything. The light is growing with each tick of the clock. Easter is coming. What new thing will you let yourself see?

(This song titled, Mercy by Dave Matthews Band appeared among some of the things I was listening to as I was working on this piece and it spoke nicely to my thoughts. I would commend it to you.)