Dawn Is Breaking
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 16, 2017
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 24: 1-12
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened
I’ve always been a night person. I’ve never liked going to bed. . . so I have some sympathy or Coralee, when I tell her its bedtime, and she fights. I always fought, too. . . and now that I have no one to really fight with, and I have no real bed time. . . so I just fight against myself, and delay and delay. I actually am usually at my most creative and my most productive right before bed. When I’m home alone because the girls are away I usually do all the cleaning to get the house read at night, and I also typically write my sermons at night, usually last night. I hate to go to bed, but I also hate to wake up in the morning. Why is the same bed, that seemed so uncomfortable when I was trying to fall asleep so appealing in the morning. The sheets that were so hot are now just perfectly cool, that lumpy pillow is finally behaving, and my dreams are taking me to places I’d love to go to, and it is all available just at the price of an extra few minutes in bed. . . Now I tell you this because I broke this habit, broke this pattern in order to gain some extra perspective this morning. I wanted to put myself, like the Mary’s, I wanted to put myself up early in the morning, before the dawn, and watch the darkness slowly fade into the new day, and just see what I can see, hear what I can hear, and observe the undarknening of the morning sky, as the dark black gives way to light blue, if by way of a neon explosion of color in the middle. This is what the Mary’s were experiencing all those year ago, on their way to visit Christ’s tomb. Although they had added to their experience the sense of complete and total loss and devastation, for their teacher, the one to whom they had dedicated their lives for the last few years, the one who had changed their worlds, and whom they hoped would change the world, for they had seen him perform miracle after miracle, and he taught somehow differently from anyone else. He seemed to have real authority, he seemed to truly know what he was talking about, but now he was gone. The Romans, who were good at taking stuff, who had taken everything from them all their lives, who had been taking and taking from the world, since before they could remember, the Romans had taken him, too, from them and from this world He said he had made. I am the Resurrection and the Life. . . what do such things mean today, this morning, in the darkness as we go to perform the rites of anointing to his dead body? These are the questions I wanted to experience, and in a way I couldn’t late at night, no early in the morning has completely different thoughts. Here were mine. . .
The first thing I notice is the mist and the cool, no the mist and the cool, and the moonlight, the moonlight really shows the mist, and the cool sent me back inside for a coat. But maybe there in and around Jerusalem it is a bit different, but it can’t be much, there seems to be a universality to this twilight time. . . Yes this is the twilight time, at least in the Celtic tradition. . . they believed that this is the time of day, right before the dawn where the fairies were the most active, trying to live just a little bit more of their magic lives, before the sun rises and robs them of their power. . . I wonder to another story I know. . . that of the Manna in the desert. . . I know it fell over night, and they woke in the morning to find it, but what time did it fall? If someone were to get up like this, before the dawn, could they happen to see the hand of God working, through the mist to drop those edible pieces of bread from heaven? Jesus said he was the bread of life, the bread of heaven, and we had seen those fish, and loaves, never run out, feeding five thousand, we recall back to Elijah and the widow, where the flower was never depleted and the oil remained fully replenished. . . do such wonders happen at this time of day, and we just don’t see them, as we prefer the dream world inside our own heads, to the one that is around us? The moon now is the only light, it shows the mist, but it blocks the stars, at least most of them. . . but off to the east, the black is a little lighter, like the ring around the moon, there is now a similar sight just above the trees. . .
Man, it is so silent. . . the world is truly at sleep. . . in the distance I hear a dog barking, maybe it is the twilight bark like in 101 Dalmatians, where they are trying to get a message across the countryside, I wonder what that message would be. . . not He is Risen, surely, whatever it is I’m sure the master and the neighbors would rather not hear it. In the distance I’ve heard a rooster once, faintly, somewhere off in the darkness, and a few other birds tweet and lone solitary notes, as if to check with their neighbors, is the coast clear? Where is that rooster? I wish he would sound off again. . . I wish more light would show on that horizon, blocked by these hills. . . this mist is giving me the chills. It’s been a half hour and I’ve just heard my first sign of other human life, a truck went by, and then another, and another, amazing how for so long there wasn’t any, and then now they are steady. . . they must’ve been waiting for 5:30, and took the grace of six minute extra sleep. And there is that rooster again. . .
I think back on our Lenten Journey through the darkness, as I sit here in the darkness, knowing that the darkness is slowly waning, as the rooster proclaims the morning, again, I don’t have to wait as long between his soundings. . . I think back to the time we looked to Jesus to calm the storm, and where was he, sleeping. . . I’d bet if he were still alive he’d be sleeping now, lingering longer, or was Jesus an early riser. . . I somehow doubt it, but it is a fact that people like to make Jesus like themselves, it helps. . . I’ve never thought too much before about Jesus’ sleep patterns, did he need sleep, much? Did he dream? What were those dreams like? What were his dreams like this night, these last two days, laid in the cold, cold tomb? The dreams from that undiscovered country from whence no man has ever returned. . . well Jesus, while you were sleeping we faced great danger, the boat was reeling, waves were crashing over the side, we almost capsized and were overtaken completely. . . almost, just apparent darkness I guess. . . is the same true this morning? Disease. . . so much disease. . . just in our church. . . some healing. . . some not, what makes the difference? Why me? Why them? You’ve healed so many, why not just one more? Why bring others to death. . . what is death like? Now you know, I guess. . . I look up at the sky and the moon is no longer the source of all the lightness in the sky. . . it is a weird thing to see, it is still quite dark, and the moon is still quite bright, but as if the moon has help it didn’t have before light extends beyond the bounds it new only a bit ago. . . making the moon, a minute before so majestic. . . ever the more superfluous and redundant. . . there is no ring of mist around it anymore either, it is only a reflection of what is to come anyway, and reflections fade.
I look to the East, and a star, twinkles firmly in the lightening sky, just between two dark grey now, clouds. . . all other stars have faded. . . but this one stands solid. I think could it be a planet, but it twinkles. . . I think back to astronomy in college, but we certainly never did our observations at this time of day, always at night, as the life a student prefers. . . I wonder if that star, no way it can’t last when the sun rises, but I wonder how long it will try. . . but now it is behind those gray clouds, hopefully the wind that I just felt gust, will help me out and that star will make another appearance before it leave us.
There is orange now. . . just faintly. . . the black is far overhead, the lighter has moved from the treeline, and has given way for orange. . . against the now purpling clouds. In those last two weeks we talked about betrayal and desertion. . . how they leave you alone, how they leave you questioning. . . I wonder if the experience of a sunrise like this has the power to bring us back from that isolation because that is what I’ve noticed. . . in the darkness, in the silence, in that twilight mist, we do feel alone, but as this sun begins to rise, and the birds keep chiping, the dogs, that rooster, the world is truly becoming alive around me, and I couldn’t help but feel a part of something beyond myself. . . isn’t that what we want, when we feel deserted, when we feel betrayed. . . this whiporwhill which I haven’t heard for years, incessantly wonders where I’ve been, saying I’ve been hear, I’ve been hear, where were you, where were you. . . and now there is more orange, and I’ve done more than hear cars, I’ve now seen one, the first to go by this morning. . . Did Mary and Mary, meet anyone along their way, did they hear the whippoorwill, did they hear this explosion of noise. . . it seems so quiet during the middle of the day, but it is so loud to my ears because it wasn’t there before. . . oh and there are the geese, adding to the morning symphony. . . what a choir, the likes I have never heard. . . with that theme of the whippoorwill echoing out, where were you, where were you, we’ve been here, we’ve been here. . . now the trees are all that is dark, their silouhette against the sky.. . . the mountains look like the clouds and vice versa, and that star is back, just above the clouds will it hang on, and now I can see my toes. . . and I hear a cow lowing, but where is that whippoorwill. . . he has given way to other themes, other birds, I wish I knew better which they were, and there is a woodpecker, I guess trying to find that early worm. . . and now there is ever so much more orange, and that star is still hanging on, and there is the whippoorwill again, we are here, we are hear, o there is that Towhee, and now the bird that sounds like a machine gun, chirp chirp,chchcchchchchhc. Chirp chirp. . . chchcchchchc, then the warbly warbly warbly. . . . honk. . .and the chirp chirp, warbly warbly, and that star still hanging on, another car. . . that dog. . . . now the warbly and the chchchch are in sync together. . . wow I feel like I do when I’m listening to a symphony, was that French horn, or trumpet, or bassoon, is that oboe or clarinet. . . the mix is magical. . . there is ever more and more. . . could Mary and Mary have heard all this. . . . could they have heard all this and still wondered how they would need to roll the stone away? How darkness could ever rule? How things would seem so depressing, so out of our control, as if there were no hope, no way forward, only a downward spiral? That star is still hanging firm in the sky, and it reminds me of Christmas. . . if you’d follow that star to the East it would beckon you towards this sunrise. . . and here go Mary, and Mary, two wise women, with their Myrrh, so this is what myrrh is for. . . afterall. . the embalming oils first used by the Egyptians. . . what a long journey it took to Jesus’ is time. . . mirroring the. . . I just can’t get over how loud these birds are, you can’t really even distinguish one from another now. . . still orange, but most of it has turned to white as we wait the rise.
Oh wow the light has a music of its own. I can’t describe it, but it just envelops all of a sudden, and the geese must feel it too, because not just one honk but all of them, and continuously over the din of the others. . . but where is the sun. . . where is the sun? it’s light is shining but where is the sun? I hear a new bird, weeeee, woooo, we, we, we. . . weeee woooo, we we we. . . still the warbly, the light is up, but where is the Sun? where is that Sun. . . the trees are green now, no longer merely silouhettes, but where is that sun, where is the star of this show, that star is still hanging on and waiting. And the moon, has no glow, but still hangs there in the sky, watching and waiting. . . and now I see the birds, I have only previously until now heard. . . is it a robin, on wait there are tons and they all look to the east, too. . . and that star is still hanging on.
And the sun begins to peak above that treeline. . . and the star and the moon, and I get to see it. . . but it is not the Sun, but who made it, the rising of the Son which puts all of this symphony even to shame. . . He is Risen, He is Risen indeed.
Ha ha, pointing toward the rising sun, is a cloud shaped like a bird. . . and rightly so. . . they were here, and sang the first hymns of the morning, to which we only echo. And I think I never would have experienced this had it not been Easter. I never would have taken the time. I never would have dreamed it could matter. I wouldn’t have seen the way that light spreads in waves, and the way the birds don’t just sporadically chirp as they do later in the day, but how they truly are the trumpets of the morning, that one rooster began all this. . . we take for granted so much in this world. . . and Easter is a part of it. We are so engulfed in 2000 years of the hope that Easter brings that we cannot remember the root of it all. . . we think that it was our own audacity that brings hope, that we can do this on our own, but I’ve heard Mozart and I’ve heard Beethoven, and they are just the copy. . . I’ve seen what Man can make on our own, and it does not have half the potential that I saw this morning. . . . We need to awaken and remember, that we owe so much to what we have no control over, but is freely given. . . just like the dawn breaking, daily each morning. . . . his eyes are on the sparrow, the old song sings, and perhaps that is because each morning their eyes are on him.
But we don’t look. I’m reading a book now about gardens, and the writer is a professor at Stanford, and I just love his point of view and the way he connects ideas from literature and humanity throughout the generations. In the book he talks about “his garden” there on the Stanford campus, it is a beautiful piece of land, small, he says usually empty. He finds himself drawn to it, to go to rest, but he says more than one time, in the hurry of his day, or usually at night, he’d walk by, and swear he’d seen the virgin Mary, or the shade of his own mother across there on the other side of the pond, but he said he never would stop to take a second look, because he said the funny thing about ephiphanies, is they usually lead you to changing in our life in major ways, and how rarely human beings are willing to take such a chance. . . perhaps that is why the dreams of the last fleeting minutes of sleep are more appealing to us than the amazing witness of birds, the trumpets of the morning, as they sing the symphony of our Risen Lord. . . . perhaps. Amen.