God hurled a cosmic gift across the sky on Monday, August 21. Crickets and cicadas came to life. An eerie, organish light permeated the air. Streetlights came on at 2:47 in the afternoon. All climaxing in a dark, perfectly round circle in the sky with light shooting out in all directions from its rim. The total eclipse of the sun.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
We’re having a rough time right now in our country –harsh rhetoric, even physical violence divide us and trigger fear, heartache and anxiety. Sometimes we feel it in our own lives, too. Financial problems, relationship problems, problems with jobs or school stir distress and dread. At times like these, it seems that the very hounds of hell are chasing us down; we feel their hot breath on the back of our necks. Virtually every day we learn of a new threat to world peace; the national discourse gets even uglier; we wonder what is to become of us; how we can regain our equilibrium. Yes, times are rough.
Last Monday, we experienced the first time since our country was founded that a total eclipse had visited only us – arced only over the United States. People of different times and of different cultures have interpreted solar eclipses in various ways, but to me, God sent the eclipse at a time when we needed to be able to look at the heavens, away from the discord on ground level and get lost in a wonder so spectacular that it is beyond us to describe or express what it was like to ourselves and others. And to get lost in it together – people from Oregon to Wyoming to Missouri to Kentucky to Tennessee to Georgia to South Carolina put on those crazy Jetson-like sunglasses and looked up, up, up, directly into the sun.
Jesus assures the disciples and us that nothing – not even Hades – can or will threaten the church. What does Jesus mean by the church? The organization, the institution, the hierarchy? We know Jesus well enough to know that that is not what he’s talking about. That he means the community, the relationships that we have with each other through our communal worship of God; our relationship with God. The love we have for each other and for God and the love God has for each one of us.
Paul gives us the same assurance in a letter to the people of Corinth: Nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. And God from time to time sends us a sign, like the rainbow of old, to remind us of that promise.
The Rt. Rev. Don Wimberly tells a great story about the Diocese of Lexington, KY, asking him years ago to consider coming to be with them to serve as their bishop. Don really wasn’t interested in becoming a bishop – he was happily ministering as the dean of the cathedral in Jacksonville, FL, and didn’t feel the need to do anything different. Then one day, he was in a car, stopped at a traffic light, and the license tag on the automobile in front of him had a Kentucky license tag with one word on it: Come. Through the years, Don has laughed and said that even he could get that message. He allowed himself to be considered for the position of bishop in Lexington and was subsequently elected as the leader of those people in the eastern part of the state.
It wasn’t always easy or fun. He knew challenges during his time as bishop; at times, he could feel the hot breath on the back of his neck. But God saw him through. He served the people of Lexington with constancy and love and then went to the Diocese of Texas as their bishop. He and his wife Wendy have now retired in Roswell, GA, near their children and grandchildren, and Don assists the Rt. Rev. Rob Wright, Bishop of Atlanta. The hounds of hell have once again been vanquished.
Last week, God shot a miracle through the sky, arcing over us all, telling us once again that nothing will stand against God’s love. And so it is, now and always. When we feel that hot breath on the back of our necks, we can always, always look to the skies and remember.
Eclipse photography by Russell Winch