The dusk-to-dawn hours have always felt especially holy to me. Activity slows, the stars come out, quiet descends. Luke records the angels announcing the birth of Jesus in the dark, writing “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them…” (Luke 2:8). Many Christians celebrate the birth by holding Midnight Mass, when “all is calm, all is bright.”
Likewise, the discovery of the resurrection of Jesus is recorded by John as occurring before sunrise, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (John 20:1). Again, angels appeared with a message: “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” (John 20:11-12) So, when I was looking over the schedule to volunteer to read the Bible during the 10th annual Venice Bible Readathon, I was drawn to the time slots before first light.
Founded in 2010 by Kathy Bolam and Karla Roy — both of whom have since passed away — and Susan Nartowicz, the Venice Bible Readathon is typically held during the spring, when Easter is in the air. It began this year on Tuesday, April 2 at 7 p.m. with an opening ceremony featuring music, a special message delivered by Pastor Kip Hasselbring of the Church of the Nazerene and a proclamation by Venice Mayor John Holic. The Mayor then began the 90-hour, non-stop reading with the book of Genesis. All readers sign up — either online or on large placards placed at area churches — for 15-minute slots. By April 5, all but three of the 352 spots had been filled. Available times were 2:45 a.m., 3:45 a.m., and 5:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
As a teacher, I typically arrive for work at Venice High at 6 a.m., so reading from the Bible on Friday at 5:45 at the Gazebo in Centennial Park worked well with my schedule.
I checked in with Emily Black, daughter of Sandy Black, one of the organizers this year, at the volunteer tent next to the Gazebo and then awaited my turn. A volunteer who silently reads along with the reader at the podium let me know when it was my turn to take over.
During my 15 minutes, I read Jeremiah 32-34, about the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people, those from Israel and Judah who turned their backs on God and His ways. The chapters I read told about the punishment that would be inflicted upon the Israelites for their sins, but also about God’s unending love for His people. In Jeremiah 32:39-41 God says, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
It was hard while reading those lines not to think about times when we in the modern day have turned our backs on God. Reading into the darkness, to an audience of one, I imagined the pain of a Father who has given his children everything, only to watch them turn on Him, rebuke Him and mock Him. My voice cracked as I read, thinking of so great a love that, ultimately, God “gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
For me, reading in the pitch black, pre-dawn hours, connected me with God and His word in a way that is difficult when the light and noise of day surrounds us. And, although not many people heard my voice, I heard God’s voice. It was the voice of a parent who deeply and desperately loves all His children, despite our faults and failings. It was the voice of a Father who will do anything — including giving us His only Son — to be sure that we know that.