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In the Beginning it is Always Dark
During my Ash Wednesday sermon this past week, I connected the closing words of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, The Summer Day, with the words of the prophet Isaiah. “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” the poet inquires, while the prophet gives word to God’s depiction of us as the “repairers of the breach, restorer of streets to live on”.
For me, in juxtaposing these two texts, I wanted us to begin our Lenten observance by framing our lives as a gift that is to be used for a purpose—God’s purpose. God’s purpose of liberation. God’s purpose of reconciliation. God’s purpose of restoration. And, in God’s purpose we become the means to an end—an end that is a new beginning.
Lent stands as a reminder that as Christians we are called to share in God’s purpose and work towards the vision of wholeness established at creation.
And, that is what I said, before I knew.
Before I knew that our country had once again sacrificed children to the false god of personal freedom. Personal freedom taken at the expense of God’s creation, at the expense of God’s beloved children. This is not the fast I choose declaims the prophet Isaiah on behalf of God--
The fast that God chooses is “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke”.
And, I wondered what I would have preached if I had known. What I would have said or offered as words of comfort or hope…
And, I am glad I didn’t know. Because there are times when I have nothing to offer. Nothing to say in response to the brokenness, the sinfulness, the hurt and the cruelty that is pursued by those who have forgotten, or never knew, the love of the God who first loved us.
Which brings me to the scripture we heard today. The aftermath of flood, a passing mention of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
The scripture in which God declares, “never again” …and yet, here we are, once again.
And, so as I consider these scripture, I find myself mired in the flood waters and fully aware of the presence of evil all around.
When I was in early elementary school my grade school showed the movie “The Never Ending Story” on the last day of school before the winter break. The movie made a huge impact and I remember weeping as I watched the hero Atreyu lose his beloved horse Artax in the Swamp of Sadness.
I recognize the feeling of despair I feel now, as kin to the feeling I felt then.
Which is not to minimize the pain of the now—but to connect it to something outside of myself, to connect it to the mythic so that I can look upon the now with some hope.
Now, I imagine most of you have not seen this film—so a quick re-cap. The protagonist is on a quest to save the world of Fantasia from an evil force called “The Nothing”. A force that seeks to devour everything in its path.
The movie is filled with desperation and despair. And, then…
The protagonist fails.
And, The Nothing wins.
I wept then, and I weep now.
And, it makes me wonder…what kind of elementary school picks that movie for the last day of school?!
However, that said, that movie gave to me an understanding that there is hope even when all seems lost. That there is hope even when we think we have failed. That there is hope that, even at the end, there will be a new beginning.
Because, as the final stones of the empire of Fantasia fall, the boy Bastian finds himself surrounded by darkness. He asks, “Why is it so dark?”. She responds, “In the beginning it is always dark.”
It is dark. And it is the beginning.
Both are true—and ring true with our own Christian hope that it is not the end, unless it is the beginning and that it is not the beginning unless it is the end.
Which brings us to the last moments of the movie in which the child, Bastian, finds himself holding a grain of sand--the last bit of the world that remains. And, from that grain he discovers that he has the power to restore the land. He only needs a grain and the ability to imagine into being the world anew…and with that he becomes the repairer and restorer of the world entire.
Perhaps I have found something to offer…because, this is where I want to pick up the story of the ark today.
A story in which the world has been destroyed and Noah and his efforts are akin to that grain of sand. The small hope that will recreate the world. As Paul describes it,
“God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.”
A few, a few were enough.
Those few had to be brave, those few had to endure tragedy and horror, those few had to be resilient. But, they were enough.
But, they were not enough alone.
God and each other. These texts point to the centrality of God and the interdependence out of which we begin anew. God’s new covenant of never again. God’ declaration of belovedness.
It is notable that Lent begins, not with images of destruction, but with images of restoration.
And, while evil is present, evil does not prevail.
And, so today’s readings center themselves not on destruction but on a new creation.
These passages center themselves upon our belovedness and not our brokenness.
Strength, resilience, love and courage.
And, as I consider these qualities in the face of evil. I consider today’s Gospel. Jesus knew he was beloved. He knew who he was and to whom he belonged as the beloved child of God. In his belovedness, Jesus could see evil for what it was and reject it. In his belovedness, Jesus had the strength to withstand temptation in the desert. In his belovedness, Jesus had the resilience to wake up each day and face down evil once again. In his belovedness, Jesus had the courage to step back into the world of men and humble himself unto the cross.
And, it is in Jesus’ belovedness that we know our own belovedness. And so, as we walk in our own deserts, I pray that we will live into our identity as the beloved children of God. And, that in knowing this as our truth, we too will have the strength, resilience and courage to show up in those places where evil dwells and stand fast to the love of God.
So, when the darkness surrounds, stand fast and know that the answer to the question, “Why is it so dark?” is “in the beginning it is always dark”.