I hope this image doesn’t say “Monday” to you. It wasn’t meant to. When I chose it for today’s reflection, I just liked the layers of trees, hills, and clouds seen on a Vermont walk. As I enter the final week of this Lenten discipline of mine — taking a picture from decades of film and digital images I’ve taken and writing whatever those images suggest– I realize I have spent far more words on celebration than on lament. But today…a look at the “dark side.”

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The hills of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont

This cloud formation is a far cry from the wispy cirrus clouds that add a harmless white spray on an otherwise clear blue sky day. This looks dangerous, or at least ominous. It casts everything into shadow, even one’s disposition if we let it. Since I am aware of the area geography in that part of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, I know we are facing west, and the sunset is hiding behind that thick, stormy formation. We had hoped for beauty, but instead found wonder as we walked.

I went looking through the Bible for some references to darkness (because that’s what we preachers tend to do). The Prophets saw darkness as consequence for the waywardness and sin of God’s people. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah…all used darkness as metaphor for that which covered over the light of God. Isaiah 59:9 sums it up:

Therefore justice is far from us,

and righteousness does not reach us;

we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;

for brightness, but we walk in gloom.

Darkness also stood for silence in the Hebrew scriptures, the silence of prophesy and the silence of God, pretty much the same thing. (Micah: “The sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them.” 3:6)

In the New Testament Jesus comes as the Light of the World, as John’s prologue says, and the darkness would not overcome it. Except that one day, when nails pierced flesh, breath gave out, and Luke says, “There was darkness over all the earth.” Other New Testament writings affirm the triumph of the light in the age that followed the resurrection of Jesus, from the gospels to Revelation, and his followers “walk as children of light.”

But there’s another caveat here, and I believe this is the lesson for our day. “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.”(1 John 2:9) Hate is a strong emotion; the Greek word here can also mean “detest.” I confess that I may be guilty of that from time to time, keeping in mind that we aren’t talking about biological siblings here, so much as our Christian family. And that covers a wide variety of sometimes, um, detestable characters: that TV evangelist; that candidate; that guy with the offensive (to me) bumper sticker on his pickup truck.  As I said, I am guilty of those dark feelings. I confess. Help me, O Lord, to repent. I want to walk as a child of the light, as the song says.

Another look at that hidden sunset from Vermont reveals more than a little hope, it turns out. There is light that still shines, and will overcome, as the clouds disperse. And the clouds always, always, disperse. Even in Portland. Even in Binghamton. So, if we look beyond the trees and the hills, and behind the clouds, there is light! And it will win. Even if it takes until sunrise.

Praise God because the dark is never the end, the end is light, and the light has already broken through into the world out of the very heart of the world’s darkness, which is the cross of the world’s suffering. And it will break through again, as sure as, far off down the road, the rider comes again his weary, lonesome way.           –Frederick Buechner

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