By the Dawn's Early Light

SJF • Easter 2010 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee went to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

It is an experience common to most of us, so common as barely to require comment, that things look different by the light of day as opposed to how they appear at night. Driving down a wooded country road at 50 miles an hour by day may seem quite leisurely — but that same road at that same speed in the dead of night may feel like a reckless thrill-ride. And speaking of wooded country roads, what child hasn’t learned that the gnarled old tree that looks so terrifying by night, is by day revealed to be nothing more than a harmless old tree. The light of day makes all the difference. We even have made the difference proverbial, by saying, “It’s like night and day” to mean almost complete opposition — far more different than “apples and oranges” or “chalk and cheese”!

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One day nearly 2,000 years ago a small group of women came to the tomb of a dear and beloved friend who had died a horrible death just two days before. He had been buried that Friday as the shadows lengthened and as the sun began to set — it had already been a day of strange and remarkable weather with clouds gathering through the afternoon so that the light of the sun was darkened even then. They watched from afar, and then as the hours passed and the friends beseeched the body from Pilate, that they might give it a decent burial, the women followed after at a distance, and saw to whom his body was commended and how his body was laid in the tomb as the darkness of night began to engulf the land. The Sabbath had begun. Then they went to prepare the spices and spent that Sabbath night and day in accord with the Law that commanded rest from all labors, and on into the second evening that ended that Sabbath day.

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But then, ah then! How different things appeared by the dawn’s early light, when they returned to the tomb the following morning. They had seen the stone set in place — only now it had been moved. They had seen only Joseph of Arimathea and the other disciples; now they saw two men in dazzling clothes — so dazzling that they terrified them! This is one time when even broad daylight had its terrors!

And the angels — for that is what they were — immediately challenged them with a question as astounding as their very presence: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The reason, of course, was simple: In the gathering shadows, they had seen the dead one laid there, had seen the tomb sealed, had seen the others walk away with their heads bowed, had walked away with their heads bowed themselves, mournful and sorrowful. They had prepared the spices in those evening hours and now they were back with them, to do with them what they would do for the dead: gently washing the body and sprinkling it with sweet-smelling herbs and spices.

By the fading light of that evening, that is what they had seen; but by the dawn’s early light none of it looked the same. As the angels assured them, the dead was dead no longer, but living; they gave them the message, short and sweet: “He is not here, but has risen.” Everything had changed in the light of that great dawn.

Never before or since has something looked so different between night and day; never before has something been so different between night and day! Never before have people so deeply saddened been given such cause for joy. It was truly night and day!

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What difference a day makes! Will this Easter Day 2010 make a difference for you? None of us here came to church this morning expecting a funeral — unlike the women who came to the tomb, we expected a celebration. And so we are having one.

But what about the rest of our lives — are we living in the twilight, or maybe even in the deeper shadows of night, or have we stepped into the light of day, the dawning light of new life in Christ? Are there things in your life like those gnarled old trees on a country road that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up in fear? Let the light of Christ shine on them and they will be shown to be just old trees after all.

Do things sometimes seem to you to be moving so fast that you have lost all control and you can’t be sure where you are heading, like a bouncing night-time ride down a country road, swerving and twisting in the late-night hours, startled by the high-beams and then plunged into shadow in confusion? Let the light of Christ shine upon your journey and be a lamp unto your feet, and that ride may be transformed from an agonizing and gutwrenching terror into a joyful pilgrimage walked in the way that Christ has gone before us — into new life, redeemed life, risen life.

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Evening and morning — they are as different as night and day! You may know that for the Jewish people the hour of sundown, the beginning of evening, is very important, particularly the evening that marks the beginning of the Sabbath, the division of ordinary time from that extraordinary day of rest. Knowing the hour of dawn is similarly important, for the offering of particular prayers of benediction and thanksgiving for the dawn of each new day.

Once, in order to test his pupils, a Rabbi asked them how they thought it best to tell when dawn’s earliest light had come. One suggested, “When you can tell from across a field if a beast is a dog or a sheep.” The Rabbi said that was not the best answer. “Some city folks cannot tell a dog from a sheep even at midday!” Another pupil offered, “When there is enough light to see if a tree is a fig tree or an apple tree.” “That is good,” the Rabbi said, “but not good enough, for some cannot tell an apple from a fig, or a myrtle from a cedar!” Another suggested, “When you can lay a black thread against a black cloth and see the thread against the cloth!” The Rabbi laughed, “Ah, Moishe the tailor knows something! But there is still a better way.” “What is it?” the students asked. The Rabbi paused, and said, “When you can look any man or woman in the face and know that you are looking into the face of a brother or sister. For if you cannot do that, if you cannot look at anyone and know they are your brother or sister, it is still night indeed.”

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The dawn’s early light of Easter gives us all the opportunity to look into each other’s faces and see, and know, and recognize each other as sisters and brothers, as children of one Father in heaven, who raised our Brother Jesus from the dead. This dawn, this day, this light makes all the difference. We need no longer be afraid of shadows. And more importantly, we need no longer be strangers one from another, in this dawn’s early light, but sisters and brothers all.

May we rejoice in that light not just today but every day for the rest of our lives and on into the life of the world to come, where we will join our Lord and Savior and Brother in the never-ending daylight of the everlasting Eastertide.+