When Joseph Henry was little we had a book called Adam and Eve’s First Sunset. The story imagined what the very first day of life on earth was like for the very first two humans created by God.
Initially, Adam and Eve thought life in the Garden of Eden was perfect. There were good things to eat, beautiful plants and scenery, interesting animals. The sun kept them nice and warm, and gave them light.
But as the day went on they noticed things were changing. That nice, warm, bright sun was sinking lower and lower into the sky. It slipped behind the clouds, then behind a hill, then was gone.
Suddenly everything was dark.
Adam and Eve were terrified. The once inviting garden seemed strange and foreboding in the total darkness. The air was cold, the sounds of animals suddenly menacing.
How would they survive a life of darkness?
Imagine their relief when the first hints of light appeared in the sky the next morning and the sun rose once again.
Throughout much of history, humans have reacted to a solar eclipse much like Adam and Eve reacted to the first sunset – with fear and panic.
Eclipse historian E.C. Krupp describes the reaction to an eclipse reported by a Spanish priest in Mexico in the 15th century.
“There was tumult and disorder. All were disquieted, unnerved, frightened. There was weeping. The common folk raised a cry, lifting their voices, making a great din, calling out, shrieking. People feared it would be dark forever, that the demons of darkness would come down and devour them.”
That attitude toward eclipses is seen in the Bible, where references to an eclipse are usually warnings of difficult days, and perhaps even the end of time.
“There will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now,” Jesus says. “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light; and the stars will fall from heaven,”
In the Book of Revelation, when the sun becomes “black as sackcloth,” the day of wrath has come.
Throughout history and throughout the world, a solar eclipse has been seen as trouble, as a shaking of the world’s foundation.
We know better now, of course. We understand the scientific reasons for an eclipse. We know that they are natural occurrences, not signs of God’s wrath. Astronomers can tell the exact times, dates, and places eclipses will occur for centuries to come.
That knowledge allows us to view tomorrow’s eclipse not with fear and panic, but with joy and wonder at the world God has made.
I have to confess, though, that as the events of the last week have unfolded I have thought that the symbolism of an eclipse at this particular time and place seems appropriate.
The foundations of this country have been shaken, and we have been plunged into darkness.
With last weekend’s protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, the death of an innocent woman and the injuries to many others who dared to stand up to hate, and some reactions to those events make me feel like the demons of darkness have been set loose upon us.
Our response to these issues should be framed for us not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Christians.
People of good faith can disagree on things. For example, we look at Jesus’ ministry of healing, often of people on the margins of society, and know that Christians should be concerned about the healing and well being of all people. Yet we can have honest disagreements about how we best carry that out.
We can know God’s mandate throughout scripture that immigrants and resident aliens be welcomed and treated well, and have different ideas on how best to follow that clear divine directive.
Many of the issues before us as a nation are complex, with many sides. That is not the nature of the issue before us this week.
Let’s be clear.
White supremacy is a sin.
Racism is a sin.
Glorifying a Southern heritage that enslaved people because of the color of their skin is a sin.
Those who espouse those beliefs are in direct contradiction of the gospel of Jesus, a gospel that proclaims that all people are created in the image of God, and are equally beloved by God.
There is no moral equivalency between those who have protested this week chanting slogans of hate and carrying torches and Nazi and Confederate flags, and those who have stood up to that hatred with proclamations of love.
White supremacists are not fine people.
Fifty-two years ago today, a young Episcopal seminarian named Jonathan Daniels was murdered by a deputy sheriff in the small town of Hayneville, Alabama, not far from Selma.
Daniels had gone to Selma to answer Martin Luther King’s call to people of faith to come stand with black citizens who were beaten by police on what is now known as Bloody Sunday. Daniels decided to stay and help his black brothers and sisters work for civil rights, a decision that led to his martyrdom.
It is more than a little discouraging to think that half a century later people are still being murdered in this country for standing up equality and love, that new names are being added to the list of martyrs, as Heather Heyer was this week.
Like many people, I naively thought that with the passage of time, the hatreds and sin of white supremacy would eventually die out with those who espoused them. New generations would come along freed from those oppressive sins.
But those carrying torches and flags with symbols of hatred and oppression through the streets of Charlottesville were largely young.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the last 10 months have seen an explosion of hate crimes and groups across the country.
It is time for those who profess to be followers of Jesus to unequivocally stand up for love, for justice, for the equality of all people. It is time for us to be absolutely clear that we do not tolerate racism or oppression in any form.
That might mean stepping outside of our comfort zones. It might mean difficult conversations with people we love. It might mean choosing not to associate with people who once were friends.
It might mean looking deep within ourselves to confront our own sinfulness.
I saw a post on Facebook this week by a woman named Naomi Shulman that has lingered with me for days.
“Do you know who makes the best Nazis?” she asked.
“Nice people make the best Nazis,” she continued. “My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than ‘politics.’
“They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away.
“You know who weren’t nice people?” Shulman continued.
Both of these events, the eclipse and Charlottesville, involve the great biblical interplay of light and darkness.
We marvel when the sun gradually darkens; we rejoice when the light returns – as it always will.