John 18:1-19:42, Good Friday
In the novel Night, Elie Wiesel recounts his experiences of being in the concentration camps during World War II through the fictional character Eliezer, a pious Orthodox Jewish teenager. In a central event in the novel, Eliezer and the rest of the camp witness the hanging of a child, who dies slowly and in agony. Beholding this most cruel of sights, someone asks: “Where is God? Where is he?” Eliezer walks past the dying boy, his tongue pink and his eyes clear, and weeps. He says: “Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.’”
For Elie Wiesel, the death of that child, the overwhelming sense of the pervasiveness of evil in the concentration camps, signalled that God indeed was dead. Indeed for us on Good Friday, as we contemplate the death of Jesus hanging on a tree, the pervasiveness of evil is not extinguished. We too are thrust into the dark, but today we are reminded that God enters the darkness with us.
Our Passion narrative indicates to us the depths of the darkness that Jesus embraces with us. It begins in a garden, in the darkness of loneliness. One from among the twelve he gathered close to him, betrays him. Another would deny his master and friend three times. The Passion narrative then moves us along to contemplate the darkness of injustice. Jesus is accused of things he did not do, things he did not say. A robber is released, the giver of life is sent to death. Jesus is thrust into the darkness of suffering, he suffers profound physical and psychological pain. Like his tunic torn by his executors, so his mind and body is torn not only by those who do him violence but also by his friends who abandon him. The Passion narrative ends in another garden, in the darkness of death within a tomb, where a broken body is left to lie in wait.
Who among us has not experienced the darkness of loneliness, of injustice, of abandonment? Who has not felt devastated by sadness, suffering, of endless waiting? Sometimes it seems that in those moments of darkness we are most alone. We struggle to give expression to what we feel, for no words can adequately say what it is like to feel what we feel, to think our thoughts, to be where we are.
Today, we are invited to linger a little while in the darkness. Not out of some morbid fascination with suffering, but simply because we are invited to see how God embraces every part of it. God truly is always and everywhere with us.
We are invited to linger a little while in the darkness, for if we dare stay there, we too will recognise how the darkness is overcome in the same way that a flickering light of a candle is brought into the darkness of a church on Holy Saturday. Indeed, we linger in the darkness that we might know how to recognise this gentle light, a light so contrary to the lights of the world.
We are invited to linger a little while in the darkness, for in this space is the mystery of love so wonderfully played out. Here in the darkness we might realise what happens when the divine embraces our human darkness. Like the pierced side of Christ which pours out blood and water, so the heart of God pierced through with our darkness sends light and mercy.
We linger here in the darkness of the tomb with Jesus to understand in our hearts the divine calculus, declared by Isaiah in our first reading, at work with us, in us, for us: through his wounds we are healed.