Summary: Sermon for Black History Month, incorporating the poetry of recently deceased African poet and statesman Leopold Senghor; focus on imprisonment, liberation, empowerment, and forgiveness.
It was night. Nothing else need be said. That short and simple phrase says it all. It was night.
It was night when they visited my bedroom, when I was a child of six, to tell me that my mother would not be coming home for a long time. The stress of giving birth to my brother had been too much; she needed to rest, they said. “Go to sleep, young man; it’ll be all right in the morning.” In the morning?! What does that mean to a young child? It was night.
It was night when the telephone rang, loud and insistent, visiting us with the news of the death of my grandmother. In those days when the phone rang at night, it was not good news. The valley of the shadow of death had opened for that fascinating saint who had given me my first Bible. It was night.
It was night. My wife and I had just returned to our apartment from a long day’s journey, filled with bright hope for tomorrow. A church was considering me as pastor, near a university where I wanted to study. It was so right, we could taste it. But it was night when the caller said, “I’m sorry; our people have voted ‘No’”. A long day’s journey into night.
It was night when we arrived at a hospital bed to find a man whose heart was giving out, a man who looked at me, his eldest son, and said, “Is this the beginning of the end?” My eyes visited the windows, searching for somewhere else to look for light. But it was night.
It seems it always is night when deadly things are done. When terrible things happen. Visits in the night are generally not good. Visits in the night suggest that the darkness is overwhelming us. Visits in the night tell us that the powers of death are huge. Night visits.
It was night when traders from the coast stole into sleeping villages and snatched men and women from their slumbers, visited them in the innocence of their rest, to take them to Goree to be sold into slavery. It was night.
It was perpetual night in the holds of the ships that made that middle passage, where hundreds perished and thousands languished, on their way across a pitching ocean to visit a far country and work, endless work. It was night.
It was night when “Massa” came and took her man, night when the peddlers of flesh visited the cabin and took his prime daughter. Weeping endured that night, and don’t tell us about joy coming in the morning. Morning just pointed up the emptiness of the bed. Night visitors. It was night.
It was night when the hooded riders came, with their fiery crosses, their horses, and their cross-covered robes. Night when the Klan rode and night when “uppity” men were lynched, strung up before their brothers so that everybody would see what becomes of those who aspire to be somebody. Night visitors enforced a cruel code. It was not good to sleep too soundly; not when the night’s silence could be split open by the curses of self-styled noble warriors. If ever there was a dark night, this was it. It was night.
It was night when kings and princes danced in luxury in palaces built on the wealth brought by Africans. It was night when planters, politicians, and even preachers slept in mansions built by African labor. And it was night at the Lorraine when shots rang out and visited Dr. King with their devastating message. Night visits. Never a good sign.
Leopold Sedar Senghor – African poet, philosopher, statesman, and Christian – wrote about night visits:
“I dream in the intimate semi-darkness of an afternoon.
I am visited by the fatigues of the day,
The deceased of the year, the souvenirs of the decade,
Like the procession of the dead in the village on the horizon of the shallow sea.
It is the same sun bedewed with illusions,
The same sky unnerved by hidden presences,
The same sky feared by those who have a reckoning with the dead.
And suddenly my dead draw near to me.”
Senghor, the father of Senegal, member of the French Academy, felt a presence. He felt the brooding, silent presence of the suffering of his people. And he knew that the night visits had to end. That there must be a reckoning. That justice was to be done. It was night.
Yet, brothers and sisters, if you and I, like this poet, are “visited by the fatigues of the day”, then I invite you to discover what God will do with night visits.
Peter too had been visited in the night, and it was not a courtesy call. Herod the King had decided that this Christian business had to be stopped. Herod started with one of their ring-leaders. He got to James, one of the three closest to Jesus. And James was put to death. The word spread quickly to the little band of believers, but they were not intimidated. So Herod, made bold by picking off James, now moved against Peter, and stole him away one night. Clapped him into jail and held him there until the moment would come to parade that preacher before the people and put him down.