Still Dark

This Is The Mystery of Easter written by Amelia Richardson Dress and illustrated by Lilly J. Moore

John 20:1-18

Happy Easter! Thank you for showing up and connecting however you were able to this morning. Welcome to you who are both near and far! Let us begin with some centering. We open our minds and hearts in prayer from Psalm 19:14, God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

“Early on the first day, while it was still dark…” While every moment was still soaked in fear and shadowed by uncertainty, in the midst of loss and pain, when their old life was gone, when the next right step was unclear, while it was still dark- that is how the most important story in all of Christian tradition begins.

It’s still dark.

In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, there was one angel and in Luke and John there are two. In Luke’s version, Jesus’ community stays in and around Jerusalem until Pentecost. And in Matthew and Mark the community returns to Galilee where in one version, they first have their encounters with “the risen Christ.” What is shared in common in Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as this version we heard in the Gospel of John, is emptiness and shadows.

It’s still dark.

A tomb with no body- unraveled wrappings and plans, injustice in the air, tears still flowing, and layers of grief growing… This story begins when both the present moment is still dark and future hopes look dim. Today and tomorrow have been emptied of all certainty, of all clarity, of connection with so many... The flow of things as they were is all done and gone.

This is of course could describe some of what it feels like to be alive right now. It’s still dark.

The future does not yet look bright. We don’t know what will be, beyond this.

For some, our inclination is to be in shock, for others it is to fix whether it is generative or not, for others it is to get comfortable in the sadness, to feel so much despair that it can feel hard to keep going, for others there is a waiting. The reference points that were once there to show us what to expect, are now gone. The maps we have, are for another world. The knowledge, we have is inadequate for this moment. The answers we hold, are for different questions, different periods in history. It is easy to feel as if the path forward is simply too hard, because it is unlit, unsure.

It’s still dark.

This means we have officially arrived at the edge of our knowing. And as much as this can make us cry or make us anxious, or threaten to reduce us, it also means we are now in a particular kind of place. We have arrived at a place where circumstances and the Universe and who we are and who we are created to be is offering us opportunities that may never come again. I wonder if this could be an invitation to take on an individual and communal beginner’s mind. This concept comes from Shoshin, in Japanese means Beginner’s Mind and it comes from Zen Buddhism. Shunryu Suzuki wrote in the book, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind that, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”

Since not one of us can claim to be an expert, about where we are, new possibilities are allowed, new ways of thinking are permitted. It is expected now that we try on new patterns. And new ways of connecting are already emerging. Failure and experiments are no longer merely just tolerated, rather at the edge of our knowing, they are the only way forward.

It’s as if we must not know to know, as if we must unlearn to learn, as if we must totally be thrown off, at the end of our understanding, to be open to another way, as if we must get lost in the dark, to find the kind of light that illumines the path to a new world. In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “those who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God. If we decide to keep going beyond the point where our eyes or minds are any help to us, we may finally arrive at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey toward God, which exists in complete and dazzling darkness.” When we catch our breath, and can see through the tears, at points, the darkness can be dazzling- it is the backdrop for stars, the landscape for seeds, the scene for something new…for all of the Cosmos and for us… It is no accident that the most important story in all of Christian tradition begins when it is still dark- with unraveled wrappings and plans, injustice in the air, tears still flowing, and layers of grief growing… This story begins when today and tomorrow have been emptied of all certainty, of clarity, of connection with so many... The flow of things as they were is all done and gone, stopped.

And what if it is in moments like this where everything has changed and is now uncertain, where our vision is unclear, what if it is in these very moment where wild, Divine sized dreams can now become real? Because as people of faith and people of conscience, as people of compassion, we know that some parts of life as we knew it, needed to die and should not be resurrected. There is now room in this darkness for germination of what is not yet. There is now space for us to move together to an entirely new place.

Over the last weeks, I have heard of ideas placed on the table that were labeled too expensive or too radical not long ago- housing those who are unhoused in vacant buildings and homes, a guaranteed minimum income, paid sick leave, subsidies for lower carbon travel, a living wage for all essential workers…

Because we can no longer claim to know where we are going, we have a chance to go somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere that God is calling us.

Whether or not you agree with his economic philosophy, Milton Friedman wrote of what can happen in moments of emergency. In 1982 he coined the concept of the “shock doctrine” where he contended that, “Only a crisis-actual or perceived-produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

Moments of pain and uncertainty, moments of shock where everything is stopped, can also be the very same place where wonderful, glorious, game changing things can unfold.

Because something happened on that first Easter day… when it was still dark and it got them on the path to finding the light. Before Jesus was executed by the State, there was just a fickle group of followers and friends, but after this day, they turned themselves into a movement. They turned their sorrow into seeds for a call to create something new, a community that would defy class and culture, status or ability, gender and history, a community of lavish love and wild welcome, a community, a new thing called a church grounded in this, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ...”

While it was still dark, the impossible becomes possible.

So I wonder if this Easter story tells us this truth: It’s as if we must not know to know, as if we must unlearn to learn, as if we must totally thrown off, stopped, that we are able to be open to another way, as if we must get lost in the dark, to find the kind of light that illumines the path to another world.

As we heard from Barbara Brown Taylor, “If we decide to keep going beyond the point where our eyes or minds are any help to us,” we meet God.

Beloved Ones, in so many ways it’s still dark, and we find that we are surrounded with unraveled wrappings of security and piles of plans, injustice in the air, tears still flowing, and layers of grief growing… But this same place, this is where our most important story begins… Right here, when it’s still dark. It starts in a moment just like this, when future hopes look dim and today and tomorrow have been emptied of all certainty, of all clarity, of connection with so many, we can let go of needing to know because no one does... This is the place where the impossible becomes possible! While it’s still dark, we can turn our sorrow into seeds.

Amen.

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