In the Cool of the Dawn: Duane W.H. Arnold
In the Cool of the Dawn
Death has a way of shaking up your world, even when that death is distant. Yesterday, I received news of the death of two friends. They were older, so it was expected. One was 81 and the other was 87. Even so, it came as unwelcome news. When we hear of a death it’s hard to know what words will help us with our own sense of loss. We look inside and outside of ourselves struggling to find the right words to explain our feelings. Sometimes, we grope for a magical phrase that will make everything all right… some denial of the reality of death, or some eloquent philosophical proposition that will turn the unfairness of death into something more approaching justice. At the very least, we’d like to find one irrefutable word of reassurance that will calm our fears as we consider our own mortality, for death touches each of us.
So often, however, the words we find are not like that. Instead, we summon up words of thankfulness for the lives that have touched us and meant many happy things. Yet with those words, we also consider the brevity of those lives in the scale of human existence. The lives seem brief… all too brief. When we think of how brief life is, some of the words we find do not have comfort contained within them, but rather sentiments of pain, bewilderment, despair, fear, emptiness, loneliness, regret, helplessness… these are words from the depth of each of us, that seem to stand in the way of re-orienting the world it now is without those who have died.
It is then, as believers, we turn to other words, special words that we share as Christians. They are words that we recall especially on Easter but words that we celebrate every Sunday as we gather together. These words, however, do not explain everything about life and death. In recalling the words connected with the first Easter, we recognize that they do not even form a consistent story. Just what the first followers of Jesus experienced and exactly what happened after his death is not clear. It has struck me that the Easter story is presented in a variety of ways. Moreover, the writers and editors of the Gospels made no real attempt to untangle the confusion, or to try and present the story in a perfect harmony. They do not attempt to explain exactly what happened or even why it happened. That is left to future interpreters. The Gospel accounts differ in detail and emphasis and are sometimes contradictory. The initial words, that have been relayed through time, tell us of people much like us, who felt angry and abandoned. They are the words of people who cursed and wept. They are the words of people who felt sorrow before they could express the joy of the resurrection.
It is the message of Christianity that what took place at the resurrection was an end and the beginning. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, “It was the end of a very great thing called human history; that is the history that was merely human. The mythologies and philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sagas. In the great Roman phrase ‘they had lived’. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead”. It was literally the end of the world as it had been known. The ending, however, was also a beginning. As Chesterton went on to say, “On the third day the friends of Christ coming a day break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realize the new wonder, but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and new earth; and in semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but of the dawn.”
“in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… and God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good.” It was in that good garden that God walked with Adam in the cool of the evening. Then came the Fall and the relentless progress of human history, so-called. Death entered the world. God, however, saw what man had done with what he had made. He saw the blindness that meant that humankind could no longer see that it was very good. So, God made a new creation. It was not with words, or laws, or myths that God declared his good news to men so that they could look upon what he had made and see that it is very good. It was, and it is, in a person – in one man’s life, and death, and resurrection. Now owing to the Incarnation there is a new creation, a new heaven and earth that awaits us. It is because of that new creation that there is meaning in life, and yes, in death.
Human history has ended, and it has just begun. Yesterday, I became aware once again, of histories that have ended. Death has claimed the lives of two friends. Yet, as I write this, I know that we have all experienced death in one way or another – the death of persons, of loves, of hopes, of dreams. Most of us have known some bitter nights waiting for the dawn… and doubtless we shall see more. My prayer, however, is this:
May God grant for each of us,
If our world has died in the night,
That we may see the first day of a new creation,
A new heaven and new earth.
Because on this day God walks again in the garden,
Not in the cool of the evening but of the dawn.
This, is our resurrection hope.