I see more sunsets than sunrises at this stage of my life.
Tonight, I stepped out of the kitchen to take a short break just as the sun had disappeared below the horizon. Just above the silhouettes of the rooftops, the sky was still bright, but as my eye moved upward the brightness turned to a burnished orange and then through whatever spectrum of shades it takes to get to azure blue. From the azure, the blue deepened, as if my eye were sinking into the depths of the ocean rather than the expanse of the sky, until the blue was black enough for the stars to shine. Night fell softly like snow or a gentle rain rather than a guillotine.
Daylight comes the same way, just in reverse.
Most of the nights during Lent have required of me to write in the dregs of the day, so I’m usually under a deadline since we choose to say our days begin once the clock strikes twelve. The reason our days begin then is it was the only way to standardize time – or so said Sir Sanford Fleming, who developed the idea so trains could run efficiently. To standardize things required an arbitrary starting point: midnight. We‘ve continued to play with our clocks over the years, acting as if we can make time do what we say, but a day doesn’t begin in the middle of the night.
My days usually begin with Gracie, our youngest Schnauzer, pawing at my head to wake me up. If that doesn’t work, she lets out one pointed yelp right in my ear and then licks me when my eyes open. All of this happens somewhere between six-thirty and seven. As the days grow longer, her paw will move into action earlier, I assure you. Summertime around here means the windows are open all through the house. Most New England homes don’t have central air, so we turn on fans and pray for a sea breeze. Those early summer mornings are filled with waking sounds of birds and waves and people in our neighborhood, all sliding gradually into the beginning of the day.
In the world Jesus knew, days began and ended at sunset. What came first everyday was rest. Or maybe they ate and then went to bed. Halfway through the day, they got up and worked and walked and did whatever they needed to do before the day was over. We think of light as the beginning of the day; for Jesus, the day began in darkness and finished with light. They ate supper first and sang lullabies first. Dawn came later.
I wonder why we changed. (Actually I kind of wonder – my comment is mostly rhetorical.)
The day was half over when Mary went to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body. I can’t imagine she had rested well. The stone had been moved and Jesus was not where they had laid him, but the light fell gradually on Mary until it dawned on her what had happened when Jesus called her name. And just as it takes a while for the morning sun to vacuum up the shadows left from the night before, so the light moved gradually across Peter and John and the other disciples, finally landing on Thomas.
One of the reasons I’m glad life circles around to the Resurrection every year is I know I need to hear the story again because there is still much about faith and life that needs to dawn on me. Here in the dead of night, halfway through the day, I’m waiting again for the dawn, for my every morning metaphor of midday sunrise, to call me again to trust and follow the Risen Christ.
And this night, most of all.