St. Paul on a Spring Evening

If you’ve never been to church on a spring evening, I want to encourage you to stop in, even if there’s nothing going on. I just love it here in the late afternoon, and into the evening. The sun sets in the west, shining into the windows of the church, long slanting light. Often when it’s warm enough, I open the windows, and in the parking lot, young people, mostly in their late teens, play basketball, quietly joking with each other in their game. And sometimes, children are playing in the playground, after dinner. Evening prayer begins with a greeting to the setting sun. Here on Cape Ann, the evening light over the sea has incomparable moments: a river of light from the sun spills out over the sea, turning everything into shining reflected glory from the western sky, a bright, and yet soft glory for the deep reds are offset by mauves and muted violets. The budding trees surrounding our parking lot show up against it, each tiny leafbud alight with flame.

The church is full of evening light, this time of day. And I think of the hymn for evening prayer “phos hilaron,” literally hilarious or joyous light. Evening prayer has a joy to it, a fulfillment of the day well lived or not so well-lived, a time for peaceful turning to God with full hearts, full of whatever we’ve been feeling or doing, or perceiving. It’s a time of the day for recollection, and to prepare for rest.
The “phos hilaron” is found as a hymn in our ELW, but it’s also found as a spoken prayer.
“Joyous light of glory:
of the immortal Father;
heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ.
We have come to the setting of the sun,
and we look to the evening light.
We sing to God,
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
You are worthy of being praised
with pure voices forever.
O Son of God,
O giver of life:
The universe proclaims your glory.”
This is a Greek hymn, sung in the churches from the third century on. And think, when our ancestors in the faith stood facing the west, looking out over whatever landscape they saw, perhaps the Sea of Gaililee, perhaps the Mediterranean, they rejoiced in the light of this same sun, setting, and thought of their Lord, our Lord, Light of Lights.

On Wednesday nights, we are studying the Gospel According to Luke. During Lent, we studied Lutheran spirituality: actually quite a wonderful study. This study of Luke is to help us in our year of Luke, Year C. The portion for tonight comes from Emmaus, one of my favorite Easter stories. It’s not in the sequential order, but it is about encountering Christ on the paths of life, in the evening of the day, and being joined by him, for a meal. When the disciples discover that Jesus is the person who met them on the road, they turn to each other and say, “were our hearts not burning within us?” (Luke 24:13-35). A sunset meeting, an evening meal, and glory shining within each heart. May your evening be blessed; may our prayers continue for those who were hurt last week. May our prayers for healing continue for all who are in need of healing, light, rest, and peace this night and every night.

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