Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Hosea 6:1-6 / Exodus 12:1-11 / John 18:1-40; 19:1-42

There seems something off with the poetry, with the æsthetics of Good Friday. I do not speak here of the bloody Passion, which can only be beautiful morally and spiritually; to delight in the sufferings of the Son as such is in every way disordered. No, I speak here rather of the setting, and specifically of the theme of light. We have, to be sure, contained in the memory of the other Gospels the darkening of the sun. Yet, in John, that physical darkness is conspicuously not there. Apart from the miraculous flow of blood and water from the side of Christ when pierced with a spear, the Passion and Death are, as John retells them, remarkably unremarkable events, at least to the public eye.

There is, to be sure, a kind of dark poetry in the providential timing of the formal condemnation of Jesus Christ before Pilate and the crowd. As John tells us, is was about the sixth hour, which is to say noon, when the sun is highest in the sky, that Pilate both, unwittingly and himself without saving faith, nonetheless proclaimed by in the full brightness of day the truth so long avoided — Behold your King. — and, yielding to the pressure of the priests and the crowd, and the less than veiled accusations of infidelity to Cæsar,  and delivered Him to them to be crucified. That is, the Sun of Justice, the light of the world, who will judge the world, is himself judged in the full light of the noonday sun.

Even so, we might well have put more darkness in the story, had it been written by us. We might have arranged, those centuries before, that the Passover be celebrated not at the first full moon of spring, but rather at the new moon, the night devoid of the helpful and illuminating light of the moon, a light which makes negotiating the darkness of night a far less perilous affair. Would we not prefer to tell of that darkest of all nights as the time when the hour of darkness had come, when the powers of evil were allowed to have their sway over the Son of Man?

Whatever we might imagine, surely we can trust in the truth of God's poetry over our own. Is it for no reason that the Passion occurs by as much light as the world can afford, that even the wicked judgment made by the Sanhedrin at night is afforded the full light of the moon by which to see? Might it not be that we see in the Passion that none could, at those final hours, claim the defense of obscurity, that none might defend himself later by asserting that he just was unable to see clearly what he was doing? Even the Synoptic Gospels remind us that the sun is darkened not through the course of the Passion, but at Christ's death. It is as if to say that no one, however darkened their wills, was really and fully able to plead ignorance, to plead an insufficiency of light.

More than that, the light of Good Friday, of the full moon of spring and of the noonday sun, is also a reminder of hope. We can, all too easily, forget that even in the worst of his Passion, the terrible death of the Lord is less something done to him as it is something he is doing, the blessed paradox of a passion which is, more fundamentally, an action. Thou shouldst not have any power against Me, unless it were given Thee from above. This also means that our sins, the worst rebellions we raise against the kingship of Jesus Christ are not, and cannot be final. However dark we try to make the world by our disobedience, the light of the world, Jesus Christ, cannot and will not be snuffed out. He remains there, through it all, to receive us, if we receive him, outside the empty Tomb.

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