Off to do shopping in a minute. Note to self: we need a 150 watt equivalent bulb… I’ve been thinking a lot about light this week!
We human beings understand our existence in terms of patterns.
Scripture is the interface, the place-of-meeting, between human experience of life in the world, and God-given human experience of God (revelation, if you like).
So it’s also a place where those patterns are made to stand out so that we can see them clearly.
One of the deepest, most ingrained, of these patterns is the sense of movement that we call “hope.” It isn’t just our need for reassurance projected onto a cold, unfeeling world. It’s our knowledge of God through God’s dealings with God’s people, reflected in Scripture and offered to the world through us, Christ’s Church.
It’s to do with what God’s like.
We human beings are tremendously aware of the difference between light and darkness. It’s to do in large part with the way in which we’re made. We don’t have eyes which see well at night. And we don’t have radar, like bats!
The darkness hides things from us, more than it does from owls, or other nocturnal animals. Night, the coming of darkness, is a time of withdrawing from a hostile world we no longer understand.
And it’s the time of dreams, when our minds try to process the experiences of the day, sometimes in bizarre and frightening ways. Yet, if things trouble us, we “sleep on them”, and can find that we are offered wisdom and understanding in the morning.
There are religious traditions which understand light and darkness, goodness and evil, as in an eternal balance. Ours absolutely doesn’t.
The Judaeo-Christian tradition clothes its understanding in the only language that really works, drawn from our poor eyesight and our sleep-patterns and brainwave activity, of light and darkness, and tells us:
“And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day…” NOT the other way round.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes with the morning.”
But this is truth, not just metaphor. God, who is love, is light. In Jesus, the light indeed comes into the world.
Because that’s what we are led to know about God. It comes out of the experience of God’s people with God.
That’s how we can stand, socially distanced from our neighbours, and shout across the fence, or the road, in bright mid-day sunlight:
“There may be some more dark days ahead, but maybe we can see some light at last…”
We’re in times when nobody can see much, shapes of things we can’t quite make out disturb us, and we’re processing thoughts that we can’t make sense of.
And in the most literal way, we have had to withdraw from a world we can’t, for the moment, function entirely safely in. And it’s the same for everyone.
But what’s different for us is the pattern we are offered to see in this. It’s the way Scripture, and faith, and, ultimately God in Jesus Christ, organizes our experience. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes with the morning.
And it’s our job, as the congregations – the parish churches – of this Presbytery and as their members, to live out this faith and this hope for our neighbours and communities.
The morning may be some way off. The new day will contain challenges of its own. But we shall see more, and we shall understand better.
That’s what keeps me going!
We sometimes say – and maybe, God forgive us, with a of hint un-Christlike superiority – “I don’t know how people cope without faith…”
Well, it’s our job, as the “church of the people who don’t go to church”, to live out that faith, in simple hope, especially at a time like this. God strengthen us all – and give us joy – to do that!
Yours in the Adventure of Christ,
God willing, I’ll be offering these prayers in a live-stream at mid-day on Wednesday. If it’s helpful to join me, please do. You’ll find the live-stream on the YouTube United Church of Bute channel, where Presbytery stuff is hosted at the moment. We’ll let you know of any change in these arrangements.
By the way – for those of you who noted that Sibyl’s readings were hard to hear at the Presbytery Online Meeting, we’ve corrected that. The problem was that the laptop mic is highly directional. (There’s a sermon lurking in there, somewhere!)
The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned. (Matt.4:1)
[T]he day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
For you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)
It is our calling, and our joy, Father of Light,
To walk in your light.
We live, not in a gridlocked universe,
Where light and darkness tussle and supplant each other endlessly,
And nothing goes anywhere.
Faith grasps the movement from all things
From darkness into your light.
Ground us now, in these deep patterns of faith.
John announces the coming of Jesus,
Which his father proclaimed over him at his birth
“You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high.”
Jesus comes, and with him the Kingdom breaks in.
Christ is risen
Christ will come again.
The defeated night loses ground.
Yet we still live in the darkness,
As the people of the dawn.
This is the raw material,
The DNA, of our faith.
We pray for those around us,
In this time of pandemic,
For whom the darkness
Is a close-woven fabric of anxiety and uncertainty.
We know, and feel, and register
These things too.
We pray for those who chafe at restrictions,
Those who find confinement to their homes frustrating,
Socially-distanced queues strange and unsettling,
Even after all this time.
We have felt all these things.
We share the joy, too,
That the lifting of restrictions brings.
We rejoice to travel short distances,
To be with people we love,
Even if the rules we must obey remind us
That the night, far spent, is not yet by.
We remember those for whom the easing of restrictions
Highlights their grief, that it should have happened then, or now,
When the rites of loss are so truncated.
Strengthen us, your congregations
To keep our promise, when the times permit,
That communities may remember, and give thanks together
For those who have died when this could not be done.
In other words, Lord, we pray
For people just like us – the people we know so well,
Because we live among them, our friends and neighbours.
They are our communities.
And we are their church.
We know that in the darkness
We seize on every glimmer of light,
Because we human beings
Are reassured by as little as the burning of a match
When there is nothing else.
But for us, in faith, you make the glimmers
More than “light at the end of the tunnel.”
They are the promise of a new day.
We pray for our politicians and leaders,
And the whole political process –
“That it may generate light, not heat”
Is the old platitude, Lord, we know –
But now it is light that we need.
Guard them from the seeking of advantage,
And the playing of old games,
That their leadership,
and their questioning of leadership’s direction,
Their formulation of policy
and their interrogation of policy,
May always be grounded in truth,
and concern for the well-being of all.
We pray for the press, in their high calling
Of seeking the truth by the shining of its light
In rigorous and proper scrutiny.
We pray for the General Assembly that never fully happened,
Its Commission, and its Moderator,
Who embody its ongoing work
And the momentum of its predecessors’ work,
As they have sought to bring light to our work,
And move us out into a new day.
We pray for boldness to emerge into a dawn that will be strange,
Full of challenges, even beyond what we could have imagined
When the Radical Action Plan was conceived.
We pray for our Presbytery’s role in this,
And that our planning and thinking be grounded
In hope, in light, in faith and in prayer.
We may keep a brief silence at this point, and pray silently, once again, for those who care for others, serve society, and work to overcome the pandemic.
And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…