My day, Lord, is yours. Creation gives us a daily sequence or alteration of evening and morning. The direction of that sequence is important and the opposite of what our language and culture dictate. We begin each day with the morning and end it at night. Genesis counts the days by evenings and morning, however, so we could say that the day begins with bedtime at night and ends in the light of day before the next sunset. Seen this way, we have a movement from darkness to light just as creation in Genesis moves from unadulterated darkness to a divided and ordered darkness and light. Revelation tells us that the darkness that permeated all things at the beginning will not be present in the eschaton.
The Work of Night
I have my nights and days to order. I have a night for sleep and a day for work. As seen above and in Genesis, we come to the evening first in each day. We think of the night as being for sleep, and with good reason. Our bodies are conditioned through environment and habit to sleep easily at night. When I was in seminary I worked at night and had to try to sleep during parts of the daytime. It was always a struggle for me to adjust properly my sleep schedule and I eventually got a pneumonia and had to quit that schedule, but fortunately not the company that I worked for.
Sertillanges talks in his book on the intellectual life about the work of night. In that section of his book he explains the role of sleep in the scholar’s life. Sleep, he claims is both restorative and productive. It is restorative because you are resting from the day before and providing your body the stillness and rest it needs for your work the following day. Sleep is significant on these merits alone. Yet it can also be productive in that it is in the stillness of the night that ideas are often more clear or vivid than in the full light of day. Sertillanges recommends keeping a notebook and pencil by the bed so that you can make note of those thoughts you have in the middle of the night, both in your sleep and in those first clear moments upon waking before the mind begins its slog through the cares and worries of the day ahead of it.
Remembering that sleep is also restoration, we might see our work of night as a sort of reward at the end of the day, and so it is. Yet seen from the perspective of the evening and morning cycle, the restoration of sleep is all preparation for what is to come. It is a bit like preparing for a journey: we plan the trip, we gather the supplies we need for the journey, and then we set out. When we plan the events of a day, we must be sure that our body is equipped for the day’s activities. Much like the automobile that we check for oil and water which we fill with gas, and whose tires we fill with air, part of the preparation for the activities of a day includes properly preparing our bodies for the work ahead of it.
The Work of Day
The work of day is the heart of what we do each night and day. We will explore this further in the coming section. The work of day for us is to replicate in some way the work of God in the six days in which he made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. We, as his image-bearers continue that work as we relive the week of creation before each sabbath.
The Movement from Night to Day
The movement from night to day is not coincidental to the biblical message. Before God’s work of creation on Day One on which he spoke light into existence, there was a world of darkness and water, without shape or content. God, however, spoke into the tangible darkness and created light. He then divided the light from the darkness so that there would be no confusion and named the light day and the darkness night. At that point in the Bible—already in the fifth verse!—God began this alternation of darkness and light, of night and day. That alternation has continued to today and will continue, according to God’s word until the end of all things. Will we return to darkness at that time? On the contrary, the book of Revelation describes the new Jerusalem as a city in which God is the light, and whose gates never close because it is never night time.
So the direction of things is from a unitary darkness at the beginning of all things to a unitary light at the end of all things. In the time in between, we have our pattern of night and day that will continue unabated until Christ’s return.
We can see the alternation of night and day as representative of another eschatological reality. If we see the sleep of night preceding the work of day, then we have a daily reminder of the sleep of death preceding the light of the resurrection. Each night that we go to bed, we can consider the sleep of death that each of us will endure unless the Lord returns first. We can consider our own mortality. This is not a time for soul-crushing moroseness, but rather for an unfettered realism that liberates the person to look fearlessly into the future and consider one’s own end.
Seen this way, we can rise each morning not with dread about what is to come that day, but rather with thanksgiving that God has left us this little daily reminder of the coming time when he will raise each person from the dead. The slumber of death is not permanent, but is only a fleeting shadow awaiting the dawn of the coming of Christ when he reclaims his church and draws it to himself.