Rousting The Darkness

Daily Devotional for Monday, January 4, 2021 from Rev. Eric Douglass

For our Monday meditations, we will begin a series on ‘early church life,’ as found in the Book of Acts.

Meditations on the Early Church: Rousting the Darkness

Acts 2:1-4: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The earliest church was known for meeting early in the morning, before sunrise. Pliny—a Roman magistrate—writing early in the second century, states: “[Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ.” We take this as the setting for today’s story.

Fire was everywhere. Literally.
It had all started earlier that morning. Jacob and I were standing together in a small room, side by side, singing quietly. It is the Lord’s Day, and our church meets in Jacob’s house. We both work in the market—which opens at daybreak—so our church has to meet long before sunrise. That gives us just enough time to get to our stalls, sweep the floors, and set out our wares.
The song moves to its end. We are singing one of the Psalms, which speaks of God’s presence being like the sunrise after a long night. We have no instruments, so our song ends when the last person stops singing…which for some long-winded persons, takes a while. This morning, I listen to the ending, dreaming of the age to come. One person, with a deep bass voice, holds the last note too long, and my dreaming comes to an end. That’s when I notice that Jacob is nodding off. Fortunately, the room is only lit with two candles, so that no one can see him. I poke him in the ribs, and we both smile.
I must admit that I’ve also nodded off a few times. I’m still getting used to these early morning hours. The worst of it is waking up in the darkness. My first chore is to light a candle, so I can find my clothes and gather my tools. I carry the tools to church, as I’ll go directly to the market afterwards. Finally I light a torch so that I can see my way through the dark streets, navigating the landmarks mostly by memory.
With the hymn over, our leader reads scripture and begins a homily. “What did Christ save us from,” he intones. “The darkness is not just in our lives, but it ruins our lives. We are saved from the darkness and the ruin.”
He pauses for us to think. My mind drifts off to my stall at the market. I am an artisan, a leather-worker, and I make belts and harnesses and sandals. But business has not been going well. My designs, once all the rage, are being passed over for some new techniques—ones that require tools I cannot afford. The last two weeks, I have learned fear. The deep fear that I will slip into poverty. It whispers about the loss of my home…the selling of my tools…and the beggar’s cup.
But our leader is speaking again: “The darkness does not just ruin our lives, but damages our souls. Christ saves us from the darkness within.”
Yes, that is my problem. The darkness within. The corners of my soul are dark with fear…and not just over poverty. I am also learning the fear of persecution: the pounding at the door…being taken by soldiers…tossed in a cell…dying alone. My fear whispers the threat of dying alone.
That’s when a loud noise breaks into my thoughts…the sound of a violent windstorm. Only there is no storm and I feel no wind. Then there is a dead silence, and in that moment, flames of fire appear. Fire is everywhere. Literally. I grab Jacob’s arm and start for the door, lest this room become a death trap. But he holds me back, and following his eyes I see that the wood is not burning. Indeed, it is not the house that is on fire!
The flames are sitting on the heads of the people…it is in their head-scarves and in their hair…spreading from person to person, as if blown by an invisible wind…covering the entire church like a flaming roof. Jacob and I look at each other, too shocked to think and too stunned to move. Then I notice something: the fires have lit up the entire room. They light up the spaces under the tables and behind the shelves, and even those corners where the shadows hide. Even the dark crevasses in the soul. The darkness, with its threats and fears, vanishes. The whispering is gone. In the silence that follows, I am not alone. I am never alone.
And the darkness is never allowed in the room again.

Our Lord:
We know much about the darkness.
We grew up in the darkness.
We know how it feels.
We have listened to its whispering:
the threats that come from the
dark corners of the soul.
The fears that live in its shadows:
of being abandoned and lost,
of being without worth.
Then the sun streams into the darkness:
a sunrise that drives away all the
shadows and the fears.
And the whispering stops.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, through which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.