The Black Gate Opens
By Greg Fischer
This is one of my favorite chapters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The broken, but not yet beaten, fellowship of men, Dwarves, Elves, and hobbits sets off for the final battle, but in this chapter another member of the fellowship is separated from his friends. Merry is not fit enough to continue the journey and can only watch while his friends begin their final foray to an uncertain ending. It is with sadness that we see Merry left behind, while his companion Pippin (the last of our fellowship hobbits) marches off for his own place of honor in the brooding war, as a soldier of Gondor. While the vanguard cannot be certain of their fate, the initial journey seems one of promise with little resistance from the enemy. Nevertheless, Tolkien indicates that the lack of resistance from the enemy does not fool the group. Throughout this chapter, Tolkien provides a sense of foreboding in describing the mood of the land, including such phrases as “… a shadow and a gloom brooded upon the Ephel Duath” and “…the air was heavy with fear and enmity”. Similarly, Tolkien informs us of the disposition of the company with such phrases as “…the hearts of all the army, from highest to lowest, were downcast, and with every mile that they went north foreboding of evil grew heavier on them.”
So too we continue our Lenten journey along a similar path. On Palm Sunday, we hear of the throng who greet Jesus. John (12:12-13) tells us that “… the great crowd that had come for the feast heard that Jesus was to enter Jerusalem, so they got palm branches and came out to meet him.” We rejoice in the acceptance of the Lord with the crowd, but we have a sense of foreboding because we know how the story ends. We are well too aware that there is pain and suffering coming and this momentary exultation and inclusion will not last – and we cannot do anything to stop it. Like Pippin, our faith is tested during this Easter season.
Finally, the Black Gate is opened and, after Gandalf rejects the terms from the Messenger, the final Middle Earth battle of good versus evil begins. This chapter ends not with the outcome of that battle but instead with our hobbit-hero Pippin hearing voices that “…seemed to be crying in some forgotten world far and above: ‘The Eagles are coming!’” The rejection of the Messenger and the coming of the Eagles are a fitting tie to our baptismal promises, which we will renew on Easter Sunday by rejecting the Messenger of Sin – Satan, and accepting God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of Christ and life everlasting.