Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Burst of Easter Light

photo by Margie Vlasits
For many years now members of our house church congregation and other guests have met at the entrance of Massanutten Caverns for an annual 8 am Easter Sunrise service. Our excuse for not meeting earlier is that at that particular spot (at the base of Massanutten Peak) the sun usually can't be seen until about that time.

The cave entrance (you can see its vine-covered concrete roof on the lower left of the picture) has been securely sealed and locked tight for decades now, and while we have never encountered any Roman guards on duty, there is a no-nonsense sign that reads, “This Cave is Protected by Virginia Law.” In other words, Stay away. Do not disturb.

The following are the Easter reflections I shared this morning:

If we were able to enter this cave behind me and go deep inside and under this mountain, we would experience something very rare for most of us, an absolute, total pitch darkness. So dark that we could not see a hand in front of our face. So dark that if we were to stay in that condition long enough, we would lose our ability to see normally, would be blinded by the dark.

We can also be blinded by light. In the resurrection story in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel, there is a description of a blaze of light that is like lightning, a megawatt burst of light powerful enough to strike us blind. Christians believe that something just that powerful happened on that morning, as life burst forth from tomb, as God struck a lightning blow against the powers of darkness and death.

I understand there is an entire branch of science devoted to the study of properties of light. I’m not well versed in optic physics, but I know light waves can be precisely measured as to amplitude, frequency and velocity. We are awed by the power and sheer speed of light, fast enough to circle the globe ten times in a mere second.

But there is nothing in the science of physics about the properties of darkness. It has no properties, but simply represents the absence of light, just as death is the absence of life.

Christians recognize the same God at work here in resurrection as in creation. In the opening chapter of the Bible the earth is described as being without form and void, as utterly empty and lifeless, with pitch darkness covering everything. Imagine everywhere being as desolate and dark as the interior of a cave, without light and void of life. Then imagine hearing God’s first recorded words in Scripture, “Let there be light!”

In the Easter story we hear another thunderous voice, this time saying, “Let there be life,” followed by an awesome burst of pure life and accompanied by a messenger from God whose "appearance is like lightning."

Many of us know darkness. We know what it's like to go through a dark night of the soul, when we feel cut off from all light and stripped of all hope.  Sometimes the darkness is of our own doing, as when we choose it because we’re blinded by light and prefer to hide from it. Sometimes we experience a darkness that oppresses us from outside ourselves, as in some terrible loss or a debilitating depression, as when with Isaiah we “wait for light, but experience bleakness, and for brightness, but grope in darkness.”

Easter is telling us that we can now all rise and shine, for "our light has come," and “the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.” It is saying that because of the power of divine light--at creation, on resurrection day, and in the age to come--our life needs never be the same. That we have come to see a kind of glory and light that is so a-blazing and so amazing that in the age to come we will have no need of the sun, because God will forever be the light. And "he shall reign forever and ever."

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