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The other day I was sitting in a somewhat ill-fitted side lounge in Kilburn. The burnt orange wall paint clashed with the corduroy navy three pieces suite. The room was decorated with an assortment of an eclectic collection of now-ancient VHS, punctuated by religious paraphernalia of one kind or another, including an almost life-sized statue of Vincent De Paul, and high-end exotic nick nacks picked up on various travels. The mantelpiece was given over to a collection of elephant ornaments, increasing in size as they stretched towards the window. This room, that late Saturday afternoon, was the venue for my weekly chat with my Spiritual Director, and a moment of great spiritual consolation.
As the conversation went on, through its well-practised routines of my simultaneous evasion and confession of my unwillingness to pray, the room was lit up with a burst of spring sunshine, albeit filtered through the dusty net curtains. The room became translucent and almost beautiful. I could just see the spring flowers in the garden outside the window and feel the warmth of the sun on the back of my neck. It struck me, that much like the sun, the happiness and consolation of God are always there. Sometimes we go outside and sit in the sunshine. Sometimes we close the curtains and hide. Sometimes the atmospheric conditions obscure the sun behind a cloud and sometimes the turning of the world means that it is night, and we cannot see sun, although even then it may be reflected in the light of the moon. But whether we see it or not, whether we seek it or try to hide from it, the light of the sun is always shining, and the peace and joy of God are always the ultimate truth of the universe, however dark it may sometimes seem.
Next week, as we go into Holy Week, we think about a time when God, as Jesus, came down into the darkness to be with us, even to the darkness of death. The full experience of this week involves a sense of closing the curtains against the sunlight in order to travel with Jesus to the darkness of Gethsemane, and beyond to the cross. In the service of Tenebrae, which we celebrate on Holy Wednesday, as each reading is finished one candle is extinguished, until the church is in darkness. On Maundy Thursday the church is stripped of all decoration so it is stark and bare for Good Friday. But then at the vigil on Holy Saturday we light the Easter fire, the fire which will never go out because it lights the sanctuary lamp – a reminder of the constant presence of Jesus, always with us in the reserved sacrament in the pyx. As the lights come on when the Gloria is sung we find the church full of flowers and life and joy as we ring the bells of Easter and celebrate the central truth of Christianity that Christ is risen.
For some Christians it seems strange, even for a discrete period like Holy Week, to deliberately focus on the darkness. I remember worshipping once with the Seventh Day Adventists for whom every day is Christmas and every day is Easter. But I think one of the insights to be gained is that God is as much with us in the darkness as in the light. In the words of Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in the grave, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.The wonder of the incarnation, whose furthest depth is reached in the descent into hell after the crucifixion, is that God is always there, standing alongside us.
With the assurance of my prayers for a blessed Holy Week and joyful Easter,
N.B. There are a few time changes from the printed Lent Leaflet.
The Monday Eucharist will be at 9.15am as normal, and not at 12 noon as advertised.
The Tuesday Contemplative Eucharist will be at 8.00pm rather than 7.30pm.