My Dear Friends,
Shadows are strange things. For us, in the northern hemisphere, and perhaps particularly at this time of the year, shadows are to be avoided. They signify to us an absence of direct light, a coolness that is unwelcome, and an absence of warmth which is suggestive of darkness. It is the shadows that most threaten and menace us. Yet in the heat of a long day how much relief do we receive from the shade! In warmer climates than ours, where the temperatures are fierce, the shade is to be welcomed and to be in the shadow of something or someone is a great comfort.
In the scriptures there is an understandable discrepancy, as there is with us, between shadows which threaten and shadows which bring joy. The Blessed Virgin, we are told, was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit as the Angel brought news of the Saviour’s birth. At the feast of Pentecost the Apostles too were overshadowed by the same Spirit. Thereafter, as they went about their ministry, those who were desperate and in need of comfort only had to let the shadow of the Apostles fall on them and they felt healed. Those same Apostles had felt the shadow of their Master throughout his ministry, both encouraging them and challenging them. And, although they “stood afar off”, they doubtless also fell under the shadow of his cross.
Some churches are blessed with a cross which hangs high over the altar and congregation and which, at certain times of the day, casts a gentle shadow over those who gather beneath it. On Ash Wednesday the priest gently traces the shadow of the cross on the foreheads of those who gather to begin the Church’s celebration of Lent, the memory of Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. The cross reminds us of our mortality, but also reminds us that wherever we go and whatever we do, we remain under the shadow of the cross. And being in that shadow is not a prelude to darkness, but a reminder of new purpose and new life.