Ramble for Kirwan Uniting Church Keeping in Touch pew sheet, Easter 2022
When I were a lad, as Monty Python’s reminiscing Yorkshiremen might have said, I was frightened of shadows. Especially, the moving shadows cast on the ceiling of my childhood bedroom as a tree in our neighbour’s yard waved around in the night breeze. What are those dancing shapes? Are they ghosts? Do they mean me harm? It’s dark!
But wait. Of course, it wasn’t very dark, or there wouldn’t have been any shadows. I hadn’t twigged then, but there were only shadows because the moon was out and bright, and the swaying tree stood between its beams and my ceiling. The Greek philosopher, Plato, describes a similar if depressing phenomenon in his allegory, The Cave. Prisoners, chained to a cave’s walls, see dancing shadows cast by people behind them carrying objects – the light of a fire between the prisoners and the unseen carriers is what produces the shadows. The prisoners think that the shadows are real, because they are all that their senses have perceived, while the actual reality is behind them, invisible to them.
What brought this childhood memory of shadow foreboding back was something which a Kiwi Anglican bishop acquaintance said yesterday on his 70th birthday. He wasn’t expected to make that milestone, he had been diagnosed some years previously with an aggressive cancer. “Death, one of the two great certainties, has been a constant companion these last 14 years and I now have no fear of it, recognising it even, as a friend.” And then he went on, “I know that its familiar shape is the shadow cast by the blinding light of resurrection.”
Jesus’ first sermon, recorded in Matthew 4, quoting Isaiah 9:
“ …the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”