Have you ever heard of “The New England Dark Day”?

The sun came up as usual on May 19, 1780, but then the skies over the northeastern seaboard darkened as far north as Portland, Maine and as far south as New Jersey. George Washington apparently wrote about it in his diaries, describing “heavy & uncommon Clouds… brightening & darkning alternatively.” It came high noon, but the sky was dark as night.

Terror and confusion ran rampant. Thousands of people left work and took to taverns and churches for solace. Chickens returned to their coops, cows returned to their stalls, and nighttime birds and frogs sang as if it was midnight. Rainwater gave off a foul sooty smell and black scum covered surfaces.

In churches, ministers railed that the Dark Day was a bleak message from God, rebuking the congregants for their sins, and people clung to each other and waited for the trumpet sound of Judgment Day. The world was quite possibly coming to an end.

It turns out that New England’s Dark Day was merely a confluence of heavy clouds, dense ocean fog, and voluminous eastward-tracking smoke from a massive wildfire in the Canadian forest. It was a perfect storm of nonvisibility, an atmospheric mass almost impervious to light. Happily, sometime after midnight, on the morning of May 20, a gentle breeze came up and blew the confluence away; as the hopeless New Englanders woke up that morning, they were greatly relieved to see the sun rising with them.

This story offers a meaningful picture for us as we enter the Lenten season, the time in which the church together considers the grave reality of darkness, but also looks toward the light and freedom of the Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Lent may or may not be a part of your tradition. Only in recent years have I come to treasure this communal slow walk toward Easter Sunday, putting on the practices of the season—repentance, prayer, fasting, and charity—with my eyes on the light of Christ’s deliverance through the cross. We, like those Dark Day New Englanders, are familiar with darkness, but, unlike our forebears, can be certain that the Light, our salvation, is coming.

In Circle of Seasons, Kimberlee Conway Ireton writes, “We all need to live in this space, this dark place between the ashes and the bread & wine, between the declaration of our mortality and the declaration of Christ’s redeeming work on our behalf. That is what Lent is, a time to reckon with the reality of darkness and death. We do so with hope, because this season of darkness ends in Easter, in resurrection, in new life.”

So, can I encourage you, children of God, in this pre-Easter season of Lent, to remember the darkness from which God has delivered you?

Ephesians 5:8 reminds us that at one time, we were darkness; now we are light in the Lord. God has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. And 1 Peter 2:10 exhorts: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

We have been brought from death to life, from dark into light; walk now as children of light.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”    —Ephesians 5:1-2, 8 (ESV)

Deer Isle, Maine, 2019