Sunset, Sunrise

 

"Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come" (Mark 1:39).

Nursing home staffs report that in the evening, residents often become restless and anxious. The time of day is called “sunset syndrome” and seems to be connected to approaching night, when darkness and the shift in patterns of activity point to sleep, when all of us, and especially children and the elderly, surrender to sleep or have difficulty in falling asleep.

This sunset time is vividly captured in Mark’s account of the end of a very busy day for Jesus in Capernaum, the lakeside community where his ministry begins with the call of the first disciples, a dramatic encounter with a possessed man at the local synagogue, and the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. As the sun goes down, the crowds are still bringing sick and possessed relatives to the house so Jesus can heal them.

The time of day is itself a signal that a new era has begun. As the Prophet Isaiah had foretold, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isa 9:2).

Jesus is that light that rolls back the power of Satan and his minions that have held the people in fear and disease, disorientation and division.  The reign of God has come, and the miracles Jesus works are a sign that the night is over and a new day has begun.

From Mark’s short description, we can’t imagine how such a day and its twilight of power and joy could have come to an end. People were filled with astonishment and wonder, as in a dream. Somehow Jesus slips away in the early hours to pray, perhaps feeling the same exhilaration that has flowed into the crowds, asking himself what all this meant and what came next. 

The disciples are up early to search for Jesus, for the crowds re back. “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus tells them that his purpose is not to establish a healing station at Capernaum or to simply work miracles, but to preach the good news that God’s love was being poured out on the land, that mercy was available to everyone, including outcasts and sinners, that something new was happening. Creation itself was recovering its original beauty and wholeness, and people were being invited to change their hearts, be reconciled with one another and with God.

All of this has occurred in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, and we know from reading on that very quickly the story will become complicated by opposition from official religion, theological quarrels over the healing on the Sabbath, the suspicions of the priests in Jerusalem, the powerful interests of the Roman authorities and the court of Herod. If Jesus was the arrival of light, the forces of darkness and fear were already roused and rolling his way.

The famous words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt are pertinent here when he addressed a trembling nation as the country headed deeper in a worldwide economic depression. He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” 

Jesus, addressing the cosmic powers that had gripped the world with fear of death and the corruption of sin, declared: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.

The Word of God comes to us, not as history but as a living Voice. Do we believe that we are children of the light? Do we believe that the risen Jesus is in our midst, dispelling our fears and empowering us to spread the news that God is in charge? We gather in worship precisely to enter the story and to believe that its message is for us, coming true in our hearing.