Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Night Watchman

Read John 3:1-16

He comes in the night. We don't know the exact time, but it doesn't really matter. He comes in the night. Perhaps it is caution. After all, with his position of power and authority, and the animosity of his fellow Pharisees towards Jesus, it wouldn't do Nicodemus any good to be seen in the company of this upstart. Or it could be custom. Rabbinical tradition says that nighttime, when it is quiet and one can be undisturbed, is the best time to study the law. So, maybe Nicodemus wants a quiet, uninterrupted chat with Jesus.

But he comes in the night, with his questions, with his needs, with his soul, to Christ.

And each of us, like John of the Cross, has known the dark night of the soul. We have woken up with the terrors of eternity interrupting our sleep, wondering if what we have believed all of our lives is true. We have slept on those uncomfortable 'parents' couchs' in our child's hospital room as she recovers from surgery, or he receives a chemotherapy treatment. We have gotten those middle-0f-the-night telephone calls which never bring good news into our lives.

And so, we come in the night to Jesus, with our faith shaken, our questions unanswered, our fears draped over our shoulders, our mortality slipping through our fingers. We, too, believe that Jesus can do the things scripture, and others, tell us he does only if he comes from God. But it is our unbelief in our faith, our doubts about our commitment, our questions about our relationship with God which bring us to him, in the stillness of the night.

And so we talk, or weep, or fall silent - hoping for a word that will comfort, a touch that will heal, a silence that will speak to our hearts, a presence that will sit by our bedside until we fall asleep. We come in the night, because that is when it seems we need Jesus the most. We come, because we know he will be there, waiting for us, willing to listen, unwilling to judge, patient and kind through every moment of our soul's long night. We come, because God in Christ has promised to stay awake, and watch, and never sleep.

At the Abbey of Gethsemane, the last service of the day is Compline. It prepares the monks and guests for bed, as well as being a rehearsal of what will happen to all of us one day. If going to sleep anbd waking in the morning is an 'enactment' of our death and resurrection, Compline remindes us of those promises made to us by God, and the trust we can place in those promises.

And when the singing and praying are done, the monks and guests line up and go forward to be sprinkled with holy water, to remind us of our baptism in Christ, and the promise that if we have been baptized in him, we will surely be raised in him.

And then, in the night, we go to our beds to sleep in the peace of Christ and to awaken, born again as God's children.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

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