A young mom brought her two boys to church. The boys were old enough to know that they needed to sit quietly during the service and young enough to not quite be able to pull it off. As the sermon began, the fidgets set in. About half way through, the boys were about to enter into full on youngsters, so mom leaned over and quietly spoke to them. Next thing you know, the two boys were sitting quietly, with their hands in their laps. Following the service, another mom, who had witnessed the exchange, but who had not been as successful came up to the mom of the two boys, with admiration in her voice, asked what she had said to settle the boys down so quickly. “I just reminded them,” she said, “that if they weren’t quiet, Fr. John would lose his place and have to start all over again.”
Listening to someone talk can at times be completely engaging and at other times… bring on the fidgets. I always thought it would be nice to have Professor Slughorn’s hourglass to judge these things by.
For those who don’t know Professor Slughorn, he was Harry Potter’s potions professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and in his office he had a most peculiar hourglass. It is not in the books, only the movie, but the professor describes it to Harry by saying, “A most intriguing object, the sand runs in accordance with the quality of the conversation. If it is stimulating the sand runs slowly, if it is not….” Well, he doesn’t finish the sentence and I won’t spoil the movie, but you get the idea. At the end of that scene, the sand isn’t running at all. I suppose that would be a useful tool in preaching.
As I think on such an hourglass and consider some of the conversations I’ve had, I can see the sand flowing freely with some and at other times, not even a whisper of movement. What’s interesting though, is the time of day when most of those conversations occur. Have you ever noticed? Early in the morning, I don’t even talk to the cat. In the middle of the day, I can be a bit keyed up. I try to slow down when I’m with folks, but there’s always that invisible hand on my back, pushing me just a bit to get to the next thing. That’s probably true for most, but at night, when we’ve met our responsibilities and filled our duties for the day, then it seems we can get down to the real business of actually living and having those deep, intimate conversations where the sand in the hourglass slows perceptibly, because the world and our minds are just a bit more hushed.
Think of those conversations you’ve had with one you love. You can stay up all night talking and feel more rested in the morning than if you’d had eight hours of sleep. Later at night is the time when we speak most intimately to one another and I believe that it is also the time when we speak most intimately with God.
I am not suggesting that you start laying in bed at night to pray, because 9.9 times out of ten, you’ll just fall asleep, but in the evening, when the day is done, it really is a good time to settle in with God to have one of those intimate conversations. Those conversations with God, at that time of the day, even have a name: the Nicodemus Hour. (Source: Behold, God’s Son, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, p.165)
“There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’”
There is so much to learn from the words of Jesus that follow. He expresses the deepness, even unto death, of God’s love for us, but today, instead of looking at the words, I want us to look at the setting and the event.
Christoph Cardinal Schönborn says that Nicodemus came at night for one of two reasons: he was afraid of being found out or because he understood that this was the time of day when individuals can finally sit together, mostly uninterrupted and have those intimate conversations. Perhaps he came for one reason or the other or both, but it is the intensity of the conversation, the revelation of God’s truths, the exploration and explaining of the mysteries of God that are the most important, and it demonstrates to us that if we hope to even to begin to understand those mysteries ourselves, then we too need those Nicodemus Hours with Jesus.
Take for example today: this is Trinity Sunday. I’ll never forget Melba Marshall. She lived in Deer Lodge, Montana and I met her my first year out of seminary. In the midst of a very pleasant conversation, she casually said, “Explain to me the Holy Trinity.” My answer today is probably no better than it was sixteen years ago, and it wasn’t very good then. Why? Because the Holy Trinity is not something you explain. The Holy Trinity is only something you know and you only know It because you’ve spent a Nicodemus Hour, that intimate time with Jesus. Billy Graham said, “Can you see God? You haven’t seen him? I’ve never seen the wind. I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind. There’s a mystery to it.” It is in that intimate time with Jesus that the mysteries of God take on flesh and blood, so that we can at least ‘feel’ them, get a sense of them and perhaps for a moment or two, know them.
Today, I encourage you: spend a Nicodemus Hour with one another. Get to know each other outside of the busyness of the day, so that you might be more intimately bound together as the Body of Christ. But I also encourage you to spend that Nicodemus Hour with Jesus, for it is there that you may truly encounter God. Perhaps you will spend the night talking or maybe you’ll spend time, hunkered down in the stillness of the night, just being together, for the pure joy of each other’s company, but one thing is certain… the sand in the hourglass will stop flowing.
Let us pray:
Glory be to the Father,
Who by His almighty power and love created me,
making me in the image and likeness of God.
Glory be to the Son,
Who by His Precious Blood delivered me from hell,
and opened for me the gates of heaven.
Glory be to the Holy Spirit,
Who has sanctified me in the sacrament of Baptism,
and continues to sanctify me
by the graces I receive daily from His bounty.
Glory be to the Three adorable Persons of the Holy Trinity,
now and forever.