From Andrew Root – “The church then has no real interest in death; the church is neither the community of optimism nor the cult of death. The church has no interest in darkness; it seeks only the light, but light can only be found in darkness…The problem with an optimistic church is that it spends all its energy on creating optimistic artificial light, seeking to pull people who know so well the darkness into faux light. An optimistic church seeks to cover the darkness. But the church of the cross seeks to make its life in what is, in darkness, hoping for the day when darkness is no longer covered but is overcome completely by the dawn of God’s future. The church lives in the dark not because it worships darkness, but because it believes that by residing in darkness it encounters the brilliance and wonder of light. It believes that Jesus Christ is the light found in the dark, found next to our loss, yearning, brokenness, giving us his humanity so that we might find new life beyond the darkness of death – this is our hope.” (Andrew Root. The Promise of Despair. [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010], p. 147.)
I tend to think of Advent rather than Lent as the time to contemplate what it means that Jesus is the Light of the world. In the Northern Hemisphere the days prior to Christmas are the year’s darkest, so it is a good reminder that even in the darkness Christ shines. I have not really thought about this before – but as the year presses on into Spring – as Lent makes its way to Easter – the darkness is on the retreat in a rather physical way, as days get longer, plants begin to sprout, and many people’s demeanor (including mine) gets a little better as each evening comes at a later hour. Daylight saving’s time seems to push the advance even more. We are reminded of the Light shining out of the empty Easter tomb, and we can declare quite openly with confidence, “Darkness be gone!”
Another thing I tend to forget about is that not only is Jesus the Light of the world, he calls us the Light of the world too. If we as the church are the body of Christ, this makes sense to me, but it is often something I forget. Collectively as communities gathered into the body of Christ we banish the darkness around us. That is an amazing promise considering the state of the world, and the darkness that still permeates our lives, always lurking as a threat to snuff us out.
A few weeks ago when it was Transfiguration Sunday – I mentioned in the sermon that we should take a sabbatical this Lent from our anxiety. How is that going? My guess is that it might be going OK for some, but for many of us the darkness seems closer than ever.
Maybe it was more optimistic than hopeful to suggest that shelving our anxiety for a time is something we can actually do. The darkness of our lives seems relentless in its attack upon us. Yet there are signs all around us that the darkness is receding.
Root reminds us that it is important to make a distinction between optimism and hope; between success and faithfulness; between protecting ourselves and giving ourselves away.
Take this past Sunday at St. Michael’s as an example. By any standard of measure the day was a huge success. To me it felt like the Sunday School Opening was the best it has been all year; well attended and executed. Classes of all ages were engaged by faithful leaders as they studied scripture together. In worship there were kids in church – ROWS of kids in church – and the unplanned chorus they sang was amazing. We had visitors, as we often do, and a comment worth sharing was that being with us “felt like home.” Fellowship hour was as lively as always and the youth outing to New York City to see the musical Godspell was well attended – not only by our teenagers but by parents and friends too. Multiple generations and a variety of people gathered all day long eager to hear the Good News of Jesus and interact with it.
I still believe that Easter is working backwards toward us. The Risen Christ who sheds all fear and destroys Death is coming soon – even as we tread forward through a Lenten wilderness. Perhaps especially now in this wilderness it is worthwhile to consider the following distinctions –
OPTIMISM VS. HOPE.
From an optimistic perspective – we could say this snapshot of one day is the continuation of an ongoing trend, more participation, more children, more doing things together. Great! But from a hope perspective – all of us who participated Sunday (or any time we gather) bring with us the darkness that looms over us. Doing what we can to booster attendance relies on optimism and never really asks about that darkness as long as we show up. Relying on God to break into the darkness with Light wherever we gather, and with whomever we gather with relies on hope. Caring for each other, welcoming others (especially our littlest ones), and dwelling in God’s Word are not just things to check off of a list – they are the very essence of what it means to hope in a future where the Light shines in our lives and to the world whether we are in a large and growing crowd or huddled in a small group. Who has shown you that Light?
SUCCESS VS. FAITHFULNESS.
If you go by the numbers, we could claim some modicum of success – at least for last Sunday or for the last several months. The problem with success is it is never satisfied and always craves more. Success is always hungry. Faithfulness declares that even if there were a two or three of us gathered and longing for some good news – Light shines in the darkness. Faithfulness finds solace and comfort even in little things. That is not to say we should rest on our laurels or not make an effort to reach out beyond ourselves. Far from it. But faithfulness knows this central truth that success can never realize: God’s call to us to be Light in this world is not dependent on anything we can measure or record numerically; it is dependent on trusting Christ to shine though us wherever we are – at church and everywhere else, no matter how dark it seems. Where might you carry that Light?
PROTECTING OURSELVES VS. GIVING OURSELVES AWAY.
The old adage that the best offense is a good defense just doesn’t seem to work with light and darkness. Light either banishes the darkness or it is extinguished. But Light can be contained. We can put walls around it, keep the door shut, enclose a roof over it, and spend most of our time trying to seal the cracks. Or, we could see the church as something much different than the way we typically think of our shared lives together. We could see our gathering as the place we go to bring the Light outside the walls. Maybe you feel burned out, burned up, or smoldering in the ashes of the darkness’ attempt to snuff you out completely. Each time we gather, you get a new torch – a torch that burns bright – carried out into the darkness around you. It is not your Light that burns; it is the very Light of Christ – burning so that even the darkest corners and shadows could be illuminated. How might we bear that Light together?
THE LIGHT SHINES.
Good intentions and wishful thinking say, “Maybe if I play my cards right I can make a difference to bring some Light into this world.”
Hope says, “Christ is the Light of the world and makes every difference; that Light is shining even through me when I feel the darkest.”
All of us bring Light into this world, and all of us snuff it out in various parts of our lives. Yet even in that darkness, Jesus is the Light of the world.
-Who has shown you that Light?
-Where might you carry that Light?
-How might we bear that Light together?
Grab a torch.
The Light still finds cracks to make its way through, and the darkness is receding.
Yours in Hope,
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)