Thus begins John’s Gospel. And yet we gather for the Tenebrae (darkness) service. So which is it?
Find out why the darkness of Good Friday is part of what makes it good.
Click HERE to listen, or read it after the jump.
One word of warning : After printing the sermon, I realized that more needed to be said. I added stuff here and there throughout, and then also about 1:45 worth of explanation at the end that is not in the manuscript. So if you want to here everything I had to say about the darkness being overcome by the light, you will need to download the audio.
In the opening verses of the Gospel according to Saint John, we are told that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Tonight the church gathers for the Tenebrae service – the service of darkness. The sun has set, the darkness has come. If Jesus came into the world to deliver us from the darkness, it seems as if he has done a poor job. We have all seen the light overcome in this world, we have all seen the darkness seems to win far too often.
Ignorance, doubt, false belief, loveless and selfish sins committed against God and against our fellow man. In the entire recorded history of the world, there has been something like 200 years total when a war was not being fought, when those whom God created were not officially slaughtering each other. Of course, Cain and Able don’t count – and there was plenty of spilled blood to go around that day. Sickness, disease, change and decay in all around I see. Often seems that death has won the victory. That the darkness has triumphed over the light.
When the Roman soldiers put Jesus on the cross, this was a ritual that had played out thousands upon thousands of times. The victim struggles for a few hours or days, and then dies. That criminal problem is solved. A stern warning is sent to anyone who might think about committing the same crime. The persons body is eventually taken down, or left there a while to send a message. But either way, that person is done.
It’s not like visiting a friend, when you leave you say, “See ya later.” The disciples were in a race against the clock. They had to get the body down, quickly wrapped, moved to the tomb, and be done burying him by the time the sun set. When they closed the tomb, there was no, “See ya later buddy”, or “Talk to you in a few days.” “Until Sunday morning, then” There was just a rush to get done, and then the hard task of coming back after the Sabbath to finish properly anointing the body. A body that already would have begun to decay.
From the standpoint of Jesus work as a preacher, teacher, leader, miracle worker, this is a total disaster. This was not how it was supposed to be. The disciples had heard him teach, and there was something about the way he spoke that was different – godly. They had seen the miracles. They had even seen death reversed. Now, death won in grand fashion.
After Sunday morning, when the women anoint his body, the stone will be rolled back into place, the disciples will try and go back to their lives, and the only time Jesus will be seen is when they come back in a couple of years to collect his bones and place them in an ossuary – a small box for bones to go in. That box will placed on a shelf in the tomb, next to other ossuaries, by that time perhaps Joseph of Arimathea will also be in the grave. Maybe a few members of his family as well.
On the cover of the bulletin, on one side of Jesus you see Saint John the Evangelist and the women weeping at the cross. On the other side you see the pierced lamb with his blood flowing. And next to the lamb is John the Baptist, pointing to Jesus, with the words “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Those words were spoken by John shortly before he was thrown into prison, and later executed. John will decrease.
But if this is God’s idea of Jesus increasing, then somebody goofed. Darkness covers the whole land. The light of the world hangs on the cross until dead, and by this time of day, would already have been put into the tomb. The women went home. The disciples were who knows where. Only one even dared to stand at the cross and see him die. Peter was still reeling from having denied Jesus. Another of the twelve was lying dead in a field, killed by his own hand.
The sun sets. None of the survivors care if it ever rises again.
“Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great. Hear may view its nature rightly, hear its guilt may estimate.”
Everyone tastes death among their friends or family at some point. You know what its like. You know the shock, the despair. The numbness and pain of that first day, of the first night without them. That’s the disciples at this point in Holy Week.
God is dead. A warning to anyone who would devote themselves to the things of God. A warning from the world to anyone who look to the one who is the light. You will also have to take up your cross and follow him. Fine words that we spiritualize for 364 days a year. And then, today we see what it really means. We are forced to face the concept of mortality. If even God can die, then what hope do we have.
But our hope is in God who died. The death of our Lord is the triumph of the light. This is the increase of which John the Baptist prophesied. Because, this is the glory of God. This, the suffering, and agony that he endured for you. The dead body that was taken down from that cross, in place of you. This is the glory of God. Because here you see the love that God has for you.
What language shall I borrow, to thank thee dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, they pity without end.”
You can find all sorts of god’s that man comes up with that are great. But tonight we see the love that God has for us. This man can not comprehend. Know that it was for you.
And know that the darkness has not, can not, will not overcame it. There was darkness over the land for those few hours. The last gasp of hell. The final push for victory from Satan and his forces. And the darkness has lost. Satan has been crushed.
The lamb without blemish has been sacrificed. He is God’s only son. He will return. he will rise, as he has promised. Not a pie in the sky hope, but Jesus really raising from the dead.
Even before the darkness is complete, the darkness has already lost.