Dear Friends,

Many many years ago, when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old, my parents took my best friend and me to tour Penn’s Cave. Located in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, Penn’s Cave boasts that it is “America’s Only All-Water Cavern.” The only way to tour the cave is by boat that takes about 20 people deep into the cave to view rock formations shaped over millions of years. Although my boat ride into the bowels of the earth was 45 to 50 years ago, I remember parts of that experience like it was yesterday.

I have never been a huge fan of caves. As long as I can remember, I’ve been somewhat claustrophobic, and the thought of voluntarily entering any place with only one way in or out, far underground, with no natural light source, is one of my most terrifying thoughts! All I could imagine was being trapped in that underground world, and no amount of logic could dissuade me from my fear. Somehow, however, my family, and probably peer pressure from my friend, convinced me that things would be okay. So there I was, climbing into the boat that would take me on this seemingly death-defying ride on an underground river.

As we entered the cave, I was relieved to see that the interior appeared huge, and I began to relax and even enjoy the wonder and beauty that millions of years and water could sculpt. Colored lights were artistically placed to highlight various formations, and I almost forgot my terror.

I was doing okay. Until our guide explained that she would show what those first explorers saw as they discovered this vast waterway. Suddenly we were plunged into darkness. Not just any darkness – total darkness without any hint of light – darkness like I had never experienced before. It was a darkness so complete, so thick, that it felt as if I could reach out and grab a handful. We could see absolutely nothing. There were some nervous titters in the boat. People must have been shifting uncomfortably, because the boat rocked slightly. I had never remembered such fear. I couldn’t move. For those few seconds, plunged into such total darkness, my heart pounded, I couldn’t catch my breath, and all I could think was what it would be like if this darkness never lifted, if this is all I would experience ever again.

43 days. That’s how long I’ve been staying home. Of course I’ve gone grocery shopping and have been to the church. Doug and I have gone on drives along the lake, walks around the neighborhood, but it was 43 days ago that our family first quarantined ourselves for 14 days when our daughter returned from Europe. I do love my family, but they are the only people with whom I’ve been closer than 6 feet. When I go shopping, I do it quickly, rushing to get out of public again. When I see my neighbors, we shout to each other or wave from a distance. People have dropped things off on our front porch, and all I can do is wave or talk from far away through the door. I miss sitting down together and sharing coffee. I miss connecting with people I love. I miss singing together. I miss sitting around a table for meetings, or Bible study, or sharing a meal. I miss my friends and colleagues. I miss worship. I miss the ordinariness of life before. I am sick of the phrase, “social distancing.” But there is little question this will be with us for many months to come.

These past 43 days haven’t been the utter, complete darkness of Penn’s Cave, but they have brought their own darkness, their own fears, their own uncertainties. My days feel unsteady, like the rocking of the boat in that vast cavern.

We are in the midst of Easter – that 50-day-long festival of resurrection, new life, hope, and joy. I think the Early Church knew what it was doing when it extended Easter beyond just one day! Because resurrection is a hard thing to wrap our heads around, and it probably takes awhile for us to really absorb it, to really embrace it, to really believe it.

After all, no one was there. No one was present to see resurrection and give a detailed account of what took place. Jesus appeared to the women and to his followers after the resurrection. The actual resurrection took place in the tomb, inside the earth. It took place in a cave, in the all-consuming darkness that is so thick you feel you can reach out and grab it.

Life now feels like that dark, inner earth place. But God is present in those dark places too. In fact, I’d say resurrection is probably one of God’s greatest acts, and it took place in the dark! So how can we doubt that God is with us now in our places of darkness?

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, author Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this very thing:

As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. … I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”

What is God working in us right now? How is God transforming us? How are we growing? What are we learning from our time in the dark? How have we learned to follow Christ more fully, to serve those around us in new ways, to love God and give thanks for all the goodness God shares?

There is no question that we are living through some dark times. But we are also living in a time of compassion, grace, growth, hope, servanthood, and love. How will you reflect these gifts of God in your life? Where do you find hope? Where is the light in the darkness for you?

May God’s light surround you and fill you with hope, grace, and joy – even in the midst of darkness!

Pastor Joanne