Remember that time where you got separated from your mom?
I think I was in a store (probably Jo-Ann Fabrics, because it seemed like every trip to town required a stop at that awful store – at least to a young boy). And my brother and I were probably running around, hiding in the racks when it dawned on me that I didn’t know where my mom was anymore.
As a kid, that moment – whether it was in a store, or the amusement park, or at a fair – is one that most of us can remember with all the clarity of what we ate for lunch today. We remember the panic, the fear, the sense of lostness and aloneness.
The longer I pastor, the more I’m aware that despite fashionable clothes, hip hairstyles, laughter and mirth there are many among us who are struggling with lostness and aloneness. I’m aware that even though many of the people you encounter in your workplace or in your house of worship or in your social circle may be laughing and may appear to have it all together, inside they feel just as lost and alone as we felt the day we lost our mom in the store.
Several years ago, my spiky-haired, Chuck-Taylor-wearing, Mennonite-pastor friend introduced me to the idea of The Longest Night liturgy. This will be our 4th year of observing The Longest Night at Imago Dei and to my reckoning, it’s become one of the most important things we do in our church every year.
If you’re not familiar with it, The Longest Night is a liturgy written for the shortest day of the year – the day with the least amount of sunlight (aka: Winter Solstice, aka: Blue Christmas). The point of it is to hold sacred a space during the festivities of the holidays, between the laughing, eating, drinking, gift giving, singing, all of the merriment – to hold a sacred space for those wrestling with grief, lostness and aloneness.
It’s a space held for those who have lost marriages, loved ones, and jobs, who have faced the rejection of friends and the despair of deteriorating health. It is for those who feel alone and doubly so set against the relief of parties, lights, and holiday specials, where every television commercial seems to say “everyone else has it all together.” It’s a space held for all who suffer and grieve in a thousand ways, and to remind them, “we have not forgotten you this season.”
In our church, we hold this space sacred by entering into a darkened sanctuary, reading Scripture about how light enters the world through Jesus, and lighting candles as little symbols of hope for resurrection in the darkness. We sit with our brothers and sisters, we touch them, we let them know that we are with them as Christ is with us. We don’t offer platitudes or easy answers, we just offer our presence. It’s a space where we literally “weep with those who weep.”
It’s not hyperbole when I say to our church, “I think this is one of the most important things we do as a body all year, to let each other know that we’re in it with you.”
So, consider this your invitation to our Longest Night Service this Sunday. I don’t care what church you go to, and I’m not asking you to switch churches and come to ours. This isn’t about that. But, this Sunday night is about creating a sacred space and you are more than welcome to join us at 7pm on the shortest day of the year.