Summary: A sermon for an Easter Sunrise Worship.
Darkness is a funny thing, isn't it? We have to have darkness, it helps us get better sleep. Sometimes in the midst of a headache or an especially sunny day, we long for a few moments of darkness. Darkness is good for a movie or a haunted house. But then again, too much darkness can be a bad thing as well. In the long, dark days of winter, we yearn for the Spring and more hours of daylight. Darkness can be scary, and oppressive, and depressing. And it can hold great power over us as well.
Several years ago, one of my cousins took a year off of school and work to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Now, this is on my "bucket list," and so I was eager to hear of his experience when he finally completed his journey and returned home. I remember him saying that he would not recommend hiking the whole trail all at once, but rather hiking it in small increments; a good piece of advice I will hold on to. The other thing I remember was how early he went to bed that night we were talking. When I asked him why he was going to bed so early, my cousin said that his body was now in that cycle. "Because," he said, "when it gets dark out on the trail, there's nothing to do, so you just go to sleep."
As my cousin made his long journey, I think he must've experience darkness much like the people of Jesus' day; in a way that we modern suburbanites do not. The people of Jesus' day did not have the modern conveniences that you and I have; no electric lamps, street lights, spot lights, or bright stadium lighting. They used oil lamps in their homes and businesses, which produced meager light at best. In fact, so lacking were the lighting options of Jesus’ day (even up to the invention of electricity barely more than a century ago), that people’s schedules revolved around the rising and setting of the sun. Much like my cousin on his Appalachian Trail trek, people were up with the sun in the morning, and often when night fell they would go straight to bed. And as I'm sure many of us know, when people are drowned in darkness, they long for the light. In fact, people in Jesus’ day so valued light that they had special celebrations centered around light.
As a part of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews celebrated a ceremony called “The Illumination of the Temple.” It took place in the court of the women. The court was very dark, surrounded by deep galleries; in the center stood four great candelabras. When darkness descended, each of the candelabras were lit, which in turn lit up the courtyard. During the night, the priest and the people danced and sang songs of joy for the light in the midst of darkness. It is with this understanding that John introduces us to Jesus, and it is in this context that Jesus later says, “I am the light of the world.” In essence, John’s message says to us, “The earthly light can only brighten up this courtyard, but Jesus brings light to the whole world.” And that is what we celebrate on Easter morning, the light of the world dawning in our midst; that is what we so keenly recognize as we gather for worship at the hour of the Easter sunrise.