(Note: This post was actually my sermon-starter idea for the January 8 Lectionary text of Genesis 1:1-5 but it can serve as my meditation as 2011 ended and 2012 has now begun).
“The first day.”
That is how this Year B Lectionary text concludes. There was a morning and there was an evening and together they constituted “the first day.” Of course, even in the text of Genesis it’s difficult to know just what that means. Within the sequence of just these first 5 verses there is as yet no discernible earth to speak of nor is there yet a defined sun or moon or any stars. There’s just some kind of light and some kind of corresponding darkness.
It reminds me of one of the motifs in last year’s outstanding film The Tree of Life from director Terrence Malick. In the film we see again and again—at key turning points in the film—some kind of orange-ish/yellow-ish wisp of light hanging in space and surrounded by darkness. Not a few people have concluded this is Mallick’s depiction of God and, more specifically, of Christ as the light that shines in the darkness but without the darkness having overcome it (cf. John 1, a text that also brings us back to “In the beginning”).
Who knows just what picture we are to envision at the end of these first few verses of the Bible. But whatever it is we are to see or picture in our minds, it adds up to “the first day.”
The first day.
What is it about that phrase that sounds so fetching? Maybe it’s something we all secretly pine for whether we know it or not. Maybe we sense that the first day—whatever it was or is or could ever be—is the day without regrets, without bad memories, without anything that came before that could sully the moment. Instead “the first day” is loaded simply with promise for what may yet be.
When we get married, we have “a first day” of being husband and wife. The very words sound funny when we apply them to ourselves initially. The idea of now just being married and having such a new status in life is enough to make one almost giddy. You look at each other over dinner and say, with grins on your faces, “Hey, we’re married!” And on that first day of marriage, it all seems possible. Your life together is all future oriented with no baggage from the past, no marital spats to remember or try to blot from your mind, no past sins as husband and wife to feel regret over or shame about. On the first day, it’s all about what may yet be and not about what has already been. What you can build together is paramount, not what you may need to repair from the past or attempt to re-build in the future.
The first day. It is a day of light, pure light. It is a day with no shadows, no things to haunt or cloud or occlude. There is nothing to eclipse the light on the first day. The first day is where we wish we could live every day. Like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, we want to set up shop on the first day, capture its essence, bottle it, keep it, preserve it, revel in it always.
But we cannot. As in Genesis 1, so in our lives, the first day is ephemeral. It ends. The evening comes and soon a new day will arrive and then another and then another and before you know it, a history starts to be formed. You have days to look back on eventually and they are not always pleasant. Things crop up that do eclipse the light after all. Shadows form. The chaos God pushed back in Genesis to create his cosmos rears its head whenever it can, disorienting us.
And as the days accumulate and the memories (good and bad) accrue, we feel a little desperate sometimes. A little wistful, a little full of what C.S. Lewis called Sehnsucht, that longing or hankering for . . . something, for a better country, a better life. We hanker maybe for what things were like on the first day. So we wonder if we can ever get back, ever get to the point of living with hope and with good possibilities instead of with bad memories and with past disappointments.
Two things give me hope in that regard. The first is from Genesis 1 itself. Yes, the first day passed as it had to do so we could move on with the story but on that first day—when all was new and fresh and redolent of possibility—there is but one character in the larger story who is on the scene and that is God himself. As someone once noted, the first four words of the Bible are really all you ever need to know: “In the beginning God.”
In the beginning God. That may well say it all. God was there in our beginning and that means he’ll be there at our ending, too. And because that is true, we know that there won’t really be an ending to any of us.
And that’s the second thing that gives me hope but this part of the hope comes from another part of the Bible when we read the familiar words “On the first day of the week . . . the women went to the tomb.” What they found on that particular first day of the week changed everything to the point that we Christians still gather on the first day to remember a resurrection that changed everything and that provided a new beginning, a new start, a new first day that returns each and every one of us (and the whole lot of us) to a time of new possibilities, to a place where the sins and regrets of the past really are forgiven and blotted out, to a place where hope shines out with all the possibility God once had in mind when he began the whole story with the clarion cry, “Let there be light.”
And there was light. There was a morning. There was an evening. There was the first day. God was in that first day and he is in all the days that follow, even to the end of the age and beyond. That is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God.