Tenebrae. A Latin word for “shadows” or “darkness.”
On this Good Friday, come with me. Come to the hill. Experience the darkness of that day. Recite that age-old story.
Touch the rough timber of the cross, and as you touch feel the large splinters that are embedded deeply in your skin. Feel the sharp dry stones scraping and cutting against your palms and knees as you kneel down. Prostrate if you have to. Taste the salty tears flowing so freely down your face. Try to register the shock that it’s all come down to…this. Last week he was heralded as king and savior. Today he is condemned to die.
Picture the torches coming through the garden in eager pursuit of him by night. Imagine the wetness on his cheek as he receives that kiss of betrayal. Hear the clinking of 30 pieces of silver in the betrayer’s pocket. Know that the night ahead will be long, just as the night previous had been. Imagine the rope tighten around his wrists. Yet he doesn’t even try to run away!
Hear the mockery and the insults. Feel his sheer exhaustion. Watch this innocent man being cruelly passed from one ruler to another ruler to decide his fate. “The man has done nothing wrong!!” you want to shout from the rooftops, but don’t. Hear the final judgment call by the leader of the land: “give him over to the people.” Feel the confusion as Jesus remains silent, except when humbly declaring the truth, “yes, it is as you say.” He is who the people say he is…and he’s going to die for it. Hear the death knell cried among the crowd. See the rage in their eyes. Maybe you yourself are part of that crowd, your voice among the mockers. “Death by crucifixion,” they demand. He’s been reduced down to that of a criminal. In fact, they’d rather release a true criminal, the worst of murderers, in his stead. “This isn’t the way it was supposed to be!”, you declare.
Cringe as you hear each crack of the whip breaking flesh. Feel the agony as you watch them put a crown of thorns onto his head, digging into his flesh. Follow him as he carries his cross down the long narrow street, faced with both wailing mourners on one side of the street and those who are spitting and cursing on the other side. Imagine the heavy beams, 40 pounds each, hoisted on your weakened bloody shoulder and dragged down the rough cobblestoned streets, feeling each jolt along the way. Sigh with some relief as a man from the crowd is pressed to come and help him carry his cross. Heed his warning as he speaks to the “Daughters of Jerusalem.” Close your eyes in defeat as you realize that there is no turning back as he reaches the top of the hill, the final place of condemnation, the final hours upon him.
Turn your face away in helplessness, but still hear the soldiers pounding each nail that pierces his hands and feet. Know you are feeling a loss that is so fierce it physically hurts and you clench your stomach in pain. The people beside you are beating their breasts. Maybe you are hiding, cowering in fear, and so deeply ashamed. You heard that rooster crow and you weep bitterly. You peek around the shadows, trying to catch a glimpse. Your teacher, your friend, the one who walked alongside you for three years now hangs there and you abandoned him when he needed you most. You even feel like you yourself put him there. Yet, to see the mercy, oh the mercy in his eyes! A love that surpasses any kind of understanding.
Hear him cry out in anguish. Taste the bitter gall. See in his eyes the desperate feeling of abandonment by the One who is supposed to love him most. He is utterly forsaken, yet he goes willingly. “Why isn’t he saving himself!?! “ you scream. See the Father turn his face away. He makes eye contact with you and as much as you want to turn away his eyes behold you there. It is as if he is looking into your very soul. Hear him make one last loud cry out to heaven! Watch as his head bows in surrender. In what feels like a rush of air, see the life leave his body.
In case you weren’t absolutely sure, suck in your breath as you watch the soldier pierce his side with a sword, penetrating his heart. Water and blood comes gushing out. Know that there is no doubt now. He is dead.
The midafternoon sun is strangely covered by darkness. Yet, that cannot compare with the darkness you feel in your soul. The weight of the world hangs in this moment.
Then there is an earthquake!! The earth rumbles. The people scream and are terrified!! The curtain of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom!! The earth is experiencing its darkest hour.
“Lord, have mercy!”
There’s not a whole lot that you know. There isn’t much that you understand in this moment. But, surely, “surely HE was the Son of God!”
Only later would you understand that he did all of that for YOU. And for me. But understanding does not come on this day. Understanding may not come for many days. Many years, even. No, today you are left with utter despair and hopelessness.
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon HIM…He was oppressed and afflicted. Yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter…He was cut off from the land of the living…He was assigned a grave with the wicked.”
The light has extinguished.
Broken flesh is brought down. He is wrapped carefully in cloths. He is gone. Death seems to have the final say.
BAM! The tomb is slammed shut. The stone rolled across the entrance. It is finished.
Tonight we had a Tenebrae Service. We lit candles. The story was read. Every excruciating detail of that dark day was remembered and recited.
After we listened to each section of the story a candle was extinguished.
As we were told that the tomb had shut a loud clanging drum jolted us and brought a sense of finality.
Finally we were left in total darkness. We were left sitting with our sin. We were left sitting with Christ in the tomb. After a time of meditating and allowing the full meaning of this to at least begin to resonate with us, we each departed quietly from that solemn sanctuary.
If the story ended there we would stil be left in that darkness. We would still be left sitting with our sin in that tomb. Death truly would have the final say.
But, the story does not end there. You see, this story was written long before the creation of the world and its ending has been made quite clear. Rest assured that this is not the end to the story.
You see, Sunday is coming….