The Black Gate Opens
The end is near, and the Passion is on the horizon. With Gandalf and with Christ, we march to the Black Gates, the Gate of Death and of Hell. We march upon the lands of shadow with no faith in our own merits, with no confidence in our own success, but instead hoping in the seemingly smallest and most insignificant of matters: the journey of two hobbits, the death of a criminal. Suffering, desolation, and trials lay ahead.
In the midst of such horror, we recognize our own weakness. We are unmanned, having neither the earthly courage or spiritual resolve to walk in full step with our King to whatever end. We know our own sin, and comprehend our own weakness: like the young soldiers of the West, we have grown up in comfort and ease, and true evil has only been a thing of story and legend. We cannot imagine the travails of Frodo, the Via Dolorosa of Christ. When faced with the diabolical, with the incomprehensible, with death, we grow pale and tremble. As much as we desire the destruction of the Ring, as we near Mordor itself we walk “like men in a hideous dream made true.”
We are unworthy; we are shamed. Yet the King has pity on our frailty. While we have not the capacity the storm the impregnable defenses of the Enemy, we are offered still “a manful deed” within our measure. Aragorn commands a task which his fearful soldiers may attempt that will still cultivate good and provide opportunity for valor: a confrontation with marauding forces, the holding of a fortress of strength. In this secondary objective, these young men can retain their honor and rekindle their hope, and find actions within striking distance of their skill. While possessing fewer talents, they still choose to invest them instead of burying them, and so can receive their lord’s pleasure.
Christ the King so too shows mercy on his disciples. He recognizes our weakness, and knows we have not the strength to neither bear the weight of even our own sins (let alone those of the world) nor harrow the halls of Hell. Instead, in setting out on the Way, on marching with Christ, we are offered deeds within measure, tasks we may yet attempt. Such deeds are still fraught with danger, and toils, and even death, but they allow us to set out upon the Christian life without being immediate daunted or dissuaded. Though seemingly small and insignificant, they are still worthy of honor and praise. The works of mercy may not contend directly with the might of Mordor, yet they nevertheless foster goodness, truth, and beauty.
As we near the Passion, we approach things beyond comprehension: the death of God, the fleeting triumph of darkness, the entombing of our hope. We have neither great strength nor wisdom to march against the Black Gates. Yet we are tasked to noble and virtuous deeds within the measure of our strength and wisdom, tasks that matter, activity worthy our full investment. And as we set out to accomplish those tasks, we do so in the name of the King, and in the hope of those feats – whether hobbit or divine – unfolding beyond our control.
2015’s Reflection: “For Frodo”