Although it is the night . . .

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

A handful of Holy Trinity parishioners is still at Holy Cross Monastery, up the snowy Hudson River about two hours. Before I returned last night, we spent some time at the retreat discussing a poem written by the 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. John is known for his poem and treatise on the Dark Night of the Soul, but I’m especially taken with some of his poetry.

The poem we discussed the other day is one that John wrote during the nine months in which he was a prisoner in a cold cell in Toledo, Spain. Unsure of whether he would be released, tortured in the name of religion by other Carmelite monks, John nonetheless maintained a faith in God.

“Well I remember the fountain,” John writes in this particular poem, as he uses the image of water through the poem. He conjures water like that at the beginning of creation, like that in baptism, like water that gives life to all creation, like water that flows from the side of Christ, as he dies on the cross. Water that combines with flour to make bread, that becomes holy, that makes us holy through Communion with Christ’s body.

The refrain to the poem, is “aunque es la noche,” “although it is the night.” Although it is the night, even though it feels dark outside and in, even though it might feel like God is not paying much attention…. John’s poem nevertheless finds faith.

[The full poem in Spanish can be read HERE.]
[The poem in my favorite English translation, is within another poem by Seamus Heaney, found HERE.]

It’s faith “even though” the current situation is bad for John of the Cross. That kind of faith even though, is a faith we can find strength from, and it’s a faith that comes through in today’s scripture readings.

In the first reading, God speaks to Abram and tries to reassure him. “Do not be afraid,” Abram, God says. “It’s going to be ok.” Abram has been feeling sorry for himself. In a culture in which one was defined by one’s progeny, Abram and Sarai were barren, and had only a distant relative to point to for an heir. But God promises a future they can’t even image, a future glimpsed in our icon of the Holy Trinity, in which the three mysterious strangers, the angels, suggesting the Trinity of God’s love, are shown hospitality by Abram and Sarai, and everything begins to change for them.

“Although it is night,” God might have said to Abram, do not fear. I am with you.

Paul says something similar to the Philippians, “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; … Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” But although it seems like the night, Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven.” “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”

In the Gospel, the Pharisees warn Jesus, that things are looking dark. Herod is out to kill Jesus, so you’d better just get out of town. Jesus refuses to listen. Jesus is not afraid of the dark, but instead, knows that God fills the dark just as well as the light. God holds us close in the dark, like a mother hen protects her young. Whether it’s the dark of night, or the dark of Gethsemane, or the dark of Calvary, Jesus knows that God will be there.

John of the Cross’s poem begins….

How well I know that fountain, filling, running,
Although it is the night.

That eternal fountain, hidden away
I know its haven and its secrecy
Although it is the night

He goes on to talk about the water that runs through even the darkest of nights, of times, of places, and in one verse he writes,

This eternal fountain hides and splashes
Within this living bread that is life to us
Although it is the night.

Hear it calling out to every creature.
And they drink these waters, although it is dark here
Because it is the night.

That turn of the phrase, “because it is the night…” suggests to me that the poet has developed a kind of “night vision” of faith… in other words, he’s not longer scared, like Abram. He’s no longer worried so much about all the evil he sees around him, like the Philippians, but John of the Cross is developing the kind of faith, like Jesus, that can maintain a love for God and for other people, even when it is night, even in the face of difficulty or war or a crazy economy, or failing health… or (fill in the blank.).

The season of Lent invites us into the dark. Perhaps we’re called to spend some time and energy with those in the dark places of the world—to pray for refugees and those under attack, to send money, or supplies. Maybe we’re invited to sit still in the dark—the dark of our own helplessness, our own lack of resources, our own poverty. Or maybe God invites us into the dark of God’s love—to those places where we realize we can’t think it all out, or talk it out, or look up the answers we seek—but instead, we need to sit still and allow God to embrace us—even though it is the night. Because it is the night.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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