Exodus 3: 1-15; Romans 12: 9-21; Matthew 16: 21-28
Good evening! I’m Paul Carling, your Episcopal Chaplain at Yale and I want to offer you a most extravagant welcome to ECY, a student-led church home away from home, and an oasis of light in a world increasingly beset by darkness. As we sing and pray together tonight, I want to invite you to reflect on the theme of light overcoming darkness, and to imagine that seed of divinity that God plants in each of us as a light, your light. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”
How aware are you of this light you carry in your daily life – in class, in your suite, with friends, in encountering strangers? How you’re your light influence the choices you make – large and small? Are there ways you use to strengthen your light? Are there ways you behave that obscure it? How does your light overcome darkness in your life, and in the world?
Let’s take just a minute to reflect on the light we each carry within us..
And now, please mute yourself and join me in singing our opening hymn, sometimes referred to as the “Black National Anthem,” Life Every Voice and Sing.
Call me old fashioned, or just plain weird, but I believe in miracles. Like the miracle that led each of you to join us tonight, for perhaps the most counter cultural demonstration you’ll experience during your time at Yale.
Why counter-cultural? Simple, because the people here tonight believe that faith, hope and love are the guiding principles for our lives.
Why counter cultural? Because, when you brush aside the rhetoric and flowery mission statements, the hard truth is that human institutions – including Yale, and most corporations, and yes, even the church – often behave in the opposite way – more motivated by self-preservation and advancement, and by an insatiable desire to grow in power and influence and profit, which, in the human economy, can only happen on the backs of someone else. As Michele Obama famously put it at the start of her husband’s second term,
“Every day I wake up in a house built by slaves.”
One of the most beautiful moments in Christian liturgy occurs at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter. The “first light” is lit on the Paschal Candle, and the Deacon sings (sing) “The light of Christ,” leading the people into the darkened church. Twice more, the Deacon pauses and sings, (sing) “The light of Christ”… and the people see the light, and they follow it.
Let’s give thanks to the Holy Spirit for planting a light within your heart that led you to join us tonight. For you, it may not be like the roaring flame of Moses’ burning bush. It may be a small flickering candle. It may only be a tiny spark. Or maybe you haven’t even noticed it yet.
Maybe you came tonight just because you need a break from the sheer weight we’ve all been carrying in trying to cope with the perfect storm of two pandemics: COVID-19 which is edging toward killing 200,000 people in America alone; the re-awakening in our society to the human face, and the systemic nature of racism; and the economic collapse that has accompanied both of them.
Or maybe you came because you’re feeling overwhelmed by finally getting here, and finding it unlike anything you’ve ever thought of as “college” before.
It doesn’t matter – you’re in the right place. You’re in a community that’s run by and for students who will love and appreciate you for exactly who you are and where you are. A community where “failure’s” not a dirty word, where we expect you to screw up, and then support you in getting back up again.
A community where that tiny spark of Christ’s light is lit, and nurtured. Where it can grow into a small flame, and then a consuming fire that transforms every aspect of our lives, and leads us into the deepest joy we can ever experience.
Like Moses’ bush, it’s a fire that doesn’t burn out, but focuses our attention, and illuminates our way along that life-giving path that Jesus promised; giving off more than enough light to help us avoid the idols of slavish self-interest, or of chronic indifference to the needs and hopes of the rest of God’s people. It’s a light that takes a huge weight off our shoulders by revealing our essential interdependence with each and every one of God’s beloved children throughout the world, and indeed our interdependence with the sacredness of creation itself.
So welcome to the great adventure of a new year at Yale, unlike any other. And keep coming back to the light. The more you do, the more you’ll find that the darkness cannot overcome it.