Thoughts from Germany:
From the Service of Light, in “The Order of Evening Prayer.”
“In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.
Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.
Let your light scatter the darkness and illumine Your Church.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever and ever. Amen.”
The old, ancient sanctuaries are dark places. In the past few days, we have begun our day in morning prayer, and ended our day with the evening prayers in the great, amazing sanctuaries. Some of them have been houses of worship for over 500 years! They are large, gothic, and awe-inspiring; the kind of places when without being told, you automatically begin speaking in whispers when you enter. They are also dark.
Even more when first built. With no electricity, the early church leaders could rely only on candlelight in these cavernous spaces. And somehow, that was enough.
Every night on this trip, our evening prayers begin with a song. Quiet and repetitive…more of a chant really. And then as the prayer above is spoken aloud by the community, a candle is carried into our midst. The candle represents light in the midst of darkness. It stands for the hope that comes through Christ.
At the time these sanctuaries were constructed, the world was in chaos. There were wars, violence, illness and death. There were new diseases that would literally cause whole families to leave their homes in a frantic escape, seeking distance between them and the germs that caused whatever sickness that was affecting their family, friends and neighbors. There was conflict, hunger and starvation.
So when we think of darkness, the people of Martin Luther’s day knew what it was to be in darkness. Even their own church forgot their need and misconstrued God’s Word of grace for all of God’s people.
What do we do when surrounded by darkness? We try to find light. That’s as true today as it was 500 years ago. Light means safety. Light means life. And so we look.
But here’s the thing: scripture reminds us that “Jesus is the light of the world, that no darkness can overcome.” (John 8:12) The candle being carried into the midst of the sanctuary space is a reminder that Jesus, the light, comes to us. It’s not a matter of us seeking out the light. Rather, the light comes. And our call is to recognize it, to see it for what it is, to allow God to love us, and for us to receive the gift of light.
This trip has been an amazing experience so far. To be in these places, to stand where Luther (and Melanchthon, and Bugenhagen, and Bach, and Wagner and… stood. To see the world as they saw it…it is breathtaking and makes the stories come to life. But I also clearly see here how life was difficult. The challenges brought darkness.
But as the reformers knew…as those who worshipped in these places for the last 500 years know and as we know: Jesus the light, he comes to us. He enters our space…the darkness of our lives, and he brings life, and hope, and love and light.
Thanks be to God!