From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.
The only things that are certain are death and taxes—or so said Daniel Defoe, later echoed by Benjamin Franklin. I find it fascinating that Matthew, a tax collector, painstakingly tells us the story of Jesus's death in a way in which the certainty of Jesus’s death was what made it different from any other death. And it was this certainty that also provided assurance.
Oh, it was a dark day, to be sure. Violence has no light in it. It is darkness, and darkness constitutes nothingness, or, at least, a perception of total void. There are many types of violence, many shades, but it is all darkness. Isn’t that what we feel, when we encounter death?
The reality of the Good Friday is deeply disturbing—or it ought to be, yet we have learned to live with it. It is as if we have grown accustomed to the sour shock of vinegar. Looking at the news, we don’t have to wonder what time we are living in. It is Friday afternoon. The atrocious reality of the Good Friday is truly appalling, and yet life somehow goes on, and we move on. We have learned to gaze at gassed children, victims of political violence; we gawk at brutality on our streets perpetrated by neighbors and those who are supposed to protect them; and we look over economic injustices allowing millions go hungry while a lot of wealth goes to and comes from wars. Our senses and sensitivities are getting more and more accustomed to the sourness of vinegar, having forgotten the sweetness of grapes—or, if we taste grapes at all, they are grapes of wrath.
Matthew sees something more on this dark Friday, and he wants to make his point clear. According to the former tax collector, on that Friday the darkness is stripped of its nothingness. Mathew tells us more about Good Friday than any other gospel writers. In his gospel, the Earth shakes. Yes, there is a tear in the Temple curtain, but tombs crack opened as well!
There is, in fact, a crack in the intimidating emptiness of death. This year, Leonard Cohen’s “Broken Hallelujah” is our metaphoric guide toward the experience of the life and death of Jesus. And on this Good Friday, I recall another of Cohen’s memorable soul cries, called "Anthem," in which the poet reminds us,
”There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
It is still Friday, but the darkness is compromised; tombstones are split open; and the code of death is cracked.
How, then, can we defeat violence? If we do it with violence, we just perpetuate the vicious Paso Doble dance of darkness. Martin Luther King, Jr., once warned us,
”The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it."
Jesus' death was different than any other death, the Gospel writers insist. Jesus death was the violence that was not returned, that was not suppressed, that was not embedded deep into the collective psyche where it always, eventually gets its revenge.
This awful, Good Friday strips violence of its intimidating power and frightening terror. Jesus’s death, and only his, becomes the shadow of the Light. It is still death—hence it it still the dark shadow, but Christ’s death subverts the Friday afternoon darkness.
The broken darkness now becomes vulnerable to the possibility of the great reversal of the terror of death. What will happen next in the story is still unknown on this Friday, but even today the wind has thrown apart the torn curtain of the temple; the light above has penetrated the granite and limestone; and the intimidating scythe of violence has been shattered forever. As the prophet Isaiah predicted (Isaiah 25:8) and the apostle Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 15:54), “Death has been swallowed in victory.”
Perhaps it is only with these promises of meaning, our hope for a healed end to the story, that we can muster the courage to attend to the awfulness of Good Friday, and sit with Jesus’ Passion and the world’s rage.
Tonight we gather on this second day of four at 8:00 p.m., and we remember Jesus’ story, which is God’s story—and which is offered to become our story, too.