Pastor’s Pen 3.28.2020
Saturday, March 28, 2020
Through the Wilderness to the Light
At 8:00 on Sunday, March 22nd, I sat in the empty Sanctuary of our church; the lights and heat were off but I was strangely warmed by a sense of the presence of God and the church who were in prayer with me. Shortly after the beginning of the second hour of prayer, I began to think of the darkness Jesus’ followers must have felt as the religious landscape around him began to shift.
Throughout his ministry there existed a measure of confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus walked among them in Galilee and by and large he was able to move and minister freely. Once Jesus turns toward Jerusalem, however, the moderate confrontation with the Pharisees morphed into high level hostility with the religious leaders of Judaism. Nowhere is this shift seen more clearly than in the Gospel of John. Jesus did teach in the Temple, but he was protected by the masses of whom the leaders were afraid.
The first hint of a darkening outlook for the ministry of Jesus actually came when Jesus told the Disciples he was going to Jerusalem. Peter demurred, suggesting such a move was not advisable. Peter was actually very astute. On some level he knew that nothing but darkness lie in the direction of Jerusalem. Jesus rounded on Peter, because Jesus knew there was no way to the light of salvation without walking into and through the darkness that lay ahead of him.
It is that same terrible darkness that accompanied all the visitors to Jesus’ tomb (but particularly the women) on that first Easter Sunday morning. It was the deepest kind of darkness that completely obscured sight and sucked the air from their lungs. The walk toward the tomb was surreal. Just weeks before they had been filled with a sense of hope that things were really going to get better. Then a betrayal, an arrest, a trial, a crucifixion and a death. The darkness had closed in and it was tight and complete.
And then, in an instant, the darkness is dispelled by the blinding light of the resurrected Jesus with the calm call, “Mary.” We don’t often think about it but the light of Jesus is made even more brilliant because of the depth of darkness through which Mary and the rest of the Disciples had walked. In part, this is because in the darkness Mary and the rest of the believers saw themselves for the lost souls that they were.
In many ways Lent is designed to make us walk through the darkness of our inner being so that we might more clearly see and more deeply appreciate the light of eternal life. As I sat in the darkened Sanctuary on a Sunday morning it occurred to me that this entire 40 days of Lent has been covered with the darkness of a growing pandemic. We saw the shadow on Ash Wednesday as the coronavirus exploded in China and had already spread to several other countries. And now the darkness of a serious virus has covered all of us, causing panic in some and serious worry in most others.
It occurred to me that perhaps for the first time in our life we may actually have a visceral understanding of the darkness that hung over the followers of Jesus as they approached that first Easter morning. Life right now seems surreal, as if we are walking around in a dream, or rather a nightmare; not sure if we will wake tomorrow to life as normal or to the news that a loved one died from this virus. This is a staggering darkness that causes us to ask the existential question, “Where is God?”
Like the original followers this is the kind of darkness where we truly see ourselves for who we are and know intuitively that we are lost without Jesus. This is the kind of darkness that causes us to know how deeply we need the light of Christ. Most of the time we actually avoid this dark place, but as Noah floated on the deep for 40 days and nights; as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years; and as Jesus faced the devil in the wilderness for 40 days; we too must walk right through the valley of darkness to see the light of Christ. After all, Noah came to a deeper appreciation of the goodness of God; the children of Israel grew into the people of God; and Jesus defeated evil. If we are serious about our walk, the darkness is to the soul as a wet stone is to the knife; it sharpens the senses, it turns dullness in to a clear focus on our Redeemer.
Perhaps our present darkness will lead us to a much deeper appreciation for the gift that is Easter!