Jesus said, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become children of light.”
Today is the turning point, the day when Jesus’ life moves from the sunlight of his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem into the gathering shadow, the last turn of the hourglass beginning to run out. For four days, he has taught and prayed; by tomorrow evening, he will be arrested, chained, beaten. He is the Light of the World, but he will begin to walk in darkness, a path that leads to the cross. He knows, like us, where he is going, that all this will end in death, but he does not know the feel of it, the sting of the lash, the bitter tang of salt and blood and vinegar on his tongue. Soon, he will.
When I was in middle school, our teacher took us camping on a cold, clear night. Hours after dark, we were rousted out of our sleeping bags and made to take a hike, without any form of man-made illumination. We went single-file into the woods, inching our way forward in the dark, whispering news of obstacles and hazards back down the line: “root ahead,” “going downhill.” It was a still night, and after a while, we realized that we were beginning to see: shapes, shadows, the faint moonlight on leaves. Our eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness, and we could move forward in a new way.
There are certain kinds of darkness which Jesus teaches us to see. Last week, here in DC, a many named Gordon Cosby died. For more than sixty years, he served as the pastor of Church of the Savior, a small, innovative congregation of high-commitment disciples, who were dedicated to responding to the needs of the very poor. In time, they emptied the worst orphanage in the city, built a residential treatment center for AIDS patients, built hundreds of units of low-cost housing, planted a retreat center and a coffee house, placed hundreds of people in jobs each year, and nurtured the talents of many artists: all by looking straight-on at people from whom it would have been easier to turn away, by looking at them, listening, and, above all, by refusing to accept that they were any different from the members who were trying to serve them.
Cosby took this personally. When he died, he died at Christ House, a medical center his church had planted to care for the medical needs of the homeless. In death as in life, Cosby lived among those from whom others turn away.
Nobody living knows what it is like to die, but I want to believe that Cosby died surrounded by Christ: in the volunteers, in the patients, in the ravings of those whose minds are broken, and in the other ravings of those who are sane and who feel their compassion as a living crucifixion. That is the territory Christ enters today: the land of those who are rejected, despised, deeply broken. It is a place Christ has never left, a dark land that glimmers with the faintest of lights.
In the next few days, we enter it in our worship: Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday. We play at it now, knowing that some day, it will no longer be play. We practice finding Christ there knowing that one day, our very soul will depend on it.
When it does, know that Christ is waiting for you, beyond where the light fails. But there are others waiting there also, waiting for the light that you can bring. It may be a faint light, a wavering flame, but it is the only hint they have that there is a God who is not indifferent. They are lying all around Gethsemane, in our gutters, under our bridges, tossed aside like old bones, but they are the very face of God, even in their degradation. Perhaps, especially in their degradation. That is the place God went to meet them.
Have you enough faith to follow?