Sermon: March 14, 2021 (Lent 4) “Light for the Dark Night of the Soul”

John 3:14-21

Can you believe it’s been a whole year since pandemic protocols began?  Can you believe it’s been ONLY a year since pandemic protocols began?  Happy Anniversary!

How do we mark a year like the one that’s just passed?  We can, of course, mark it by the losses we’ve experienced–2.6 million deaths in the world, 527,000 deaths in the US, and 11,500 deaths in North Carolina.  We also can look at employment losses, health losses, and all the other losses we’ve endured because of the pandemic.  Did you know that overall life expectancy in the US dropped an entire year last year, from 78.8 years to 77.8 years?  In the same period, life expectancy for Blacks dropped a whopping 2.7 years, to 72 years.

Were we to list everything we’ve lost in the last year, we’d be here all day and well into the night.  To be sure, it’s important to make note of things and, especially, of people we’ve lost.  Grieving our losses is an important part of recovering from this traumatic year.

Equally important to grieving our losses, though, is naming what we’ve gained.  As someone said recently:  It’s been a year…and we’re still here!  And we are!  We ARE still here!  How did that happen?  How, after one of the most stressful years on record, are we still here?  

Let’s look at some of the positive things that have happened this year.  The children mentioned a few, like, spending more time with family and the fact that people are being more careful and safe.  I’m not sure about that having-more-play-time-and-less-school thing…  

I asked the same question during Sunday School last week.  In addition to saving money on gas and spending more time with pets, the adults said they appreciated having more time for reflection.  Several mentioned experiencing with greater depth the beauty of last Spring.  “I noticed the flowers!” one person said.  Some expressed gratitude for a return to simplicity and the reminder that we are all interdependent.  One person mentioned that people in her neighborhood now see and speak to one another.  

Another expressed appreciation for focusing our efforts more intentionally on working for racial justice.  I would add to that our congregation’s commitment to housing our houseless neighbors for Code Purple nights this winter.

Several people mentioned being grateful for Zoom.  I wouldn’t categorize comments I heard about Zoom last March as expressions of gratitude.  🙂  Getting comfortable with Zoom was a long process.  Do you remember?  Folks who now are hosting Zoom meetings were very firm in their stance at the beginning:  Our group will wait to meet until we’re all back together.  Remember that?

So, what happened to help us overcome our resistance to Zooming?  We practiced.  Marika talked us through how to do it…several times.  Eventually, Zooming became second nature to us.  Well, almost.  🙂  

So, we learned how to Zoom.  And that’s a significant accomplishment.  But here’s my question:  Why?  Why, in the midst of the traumatic experience of going on lockdown, why, when our lives were turned upside down, why, when so many things were so very difficult, why did we work so hard to learn something that, at the beginning was so uncomfortable?

It’s no great mystery, is it?  We learned to Zoom–despite all the frustrations–because we needed each other.  As our world went topsy turvy, as our losses mounted, as the trauma deepened, we needed to see each other and hear each other and share our lives with each other.  We needed to visit with each other and pray with each other and laugh with each other.  We couldn’t worship together in the sanctuary, we couldn’t hug each other, we couldn’t go out to lunch together…all that was left was Zoom.  And so–Dagnabit it all!–we learned it.  We might have gone kicking and screaming, but we learned Zoom because we needed each other.  I mean, we needed each other.  We needed some light in a world that had grown very dim.

One HUGE gift of Zoom has been expanding our congregation into the southern hemisphere.  Pam and Penny regularly join us from Ecuador.  And our teacher for Sunday School last week was Elena, who lives and works in Nicaragua.  

Last Sunday, we looked at the cross from the perspective of Liberation Theology.  As I read today’s description of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in John, something Elena said in last week’s class resonated.

Elena said that Liberation Theology invites us to embrace the cross.  That means we embrace the fact that we are in pain, we are fractured, we are grieving.  When we can live through our pain, she said, then we are able to experience resurrection.

Another key tenet of Liberation Theology is that none of us does this work alone.  We don’t embrace our brokenness by ourselves.  We come to the cross together.  We come for ourselves, we come for each other, we come for the world.  And as we accompany each other to the cross, as we–together–embrace all the pain, all the brokenness, all our wounds, somehow, in embracing the pain, somehow, in our togetherness, somehow, in looking to and identifying with the one who was lifted up, somehow, we begin to heal.  And when we begin to heal…that’s when we begin to experience resurrection.

I suspect that’s why we’ve worked so hard to learn Zoom this year.  It’s not complicated.  We’ve needed each other.  In our brokenness, in our woundedness, in our weariness, as our way grew more and more dim, we needed some light…a light we only can experience in the presence of others.  And so we learned to Zoom.

As class ended last week, Elena asked each of us to share what we were taking with us from the class and what we were giving back to the community.  I said I was taking with me the reminder of how vital mutual accompaniment is in every aspect of life.  I’m giving back a renewed commitment to reminding us all that mutual accompaniment is vital to our work as a community of Jesus’ followers.  Life isn’t something we do alone.  We must do it together, listening to each other, sharing our true selves with each other, accompanying each other.  As Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”  

Everything we do as a community–both within the First Congregational community and in the work we do outside it, we do it all together.  We accompany each other.  We accompany those we serve outside this community.  We embrace the pain, the brokenness.  We open ourselves to experience healing.  Then and only then, do we experience resurrection.  And when we do, we move from darkness to light…together.

I share with you now a poem that describes well the process of embracing our brokenness as the means by which we experience the light.  As you listen, I invite you to invite into consciousness all the others who are hearing these words along with you.  Remember that we make the journey to the cross together.  Remember that we’re all just walking each other home.

When the light around you lessens

And your thoughts darken until

Your body feels fear turn

Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft

Of any belief in yourself

And all you unknowingly

Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands

Your whole heart,

And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see

That it is your own thinking

That darkens your world.

Search and you will find

A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,

And that this darkness has purpose;

Gradually it will school your eyes,

To find the one gift your life requires

Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning

Of every suffering

You have suffered.

Close your eyes.

Gather all the kindling

About your heart

To create one spark

That is all you need

To nourish the flame

That will cleanse the dark

Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive

To urge you towards higher ground

Where your imagination

will learn to engage difficulty

As its most rewarding threshold!

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2021

  1.  For Courage, by John O’Donohue

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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