This afternoon, somewhere around one o'clock, I emerged from Hong Kong's subway system (the MTR) and made my way back upstairs, through the mall, and out onto the bridge that takes me back along the promenade to my apartment. And as I sniffed the mid-day air and felt the darkness envelope me in the clouds that brought some hazy rain, I thought to myself, "how appropriate." Here it was Good Friday, and between the hours of noon and three, on that magnificent Friday when Jesus died the skies went dark and the pangs of death cried out as they never had before and never have since and never will again.
There are many ways to meditate this day on Christ's final breath. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all write about the greatest death ever. But we're drawn, along with our companion N.T. Wright, to John 19. The good pastor continues his reflections on Holy Week by focusing like this:
1. Wright contrasts Caesar, who was thought to be god, with the One and Only God. "John's gospel is full of irony at every level, but this is surely the greatest: that when the empire hears the word that there is a God who might call empire to account, the empire does what it always does, mocks and kills - but that very action proves the point, because God...does not fight the battle against evil with the weapons of the world, but with the weapons of love. As St Paul saw so clearly, Caesar's apparent victory was actually the victory of God." Boy do I love that last line. Amen!
2. Wright compares the creation narrative of Genesis to the crucifixion narrative of John. "But the Scriptures must be fulfilled, and the power of God will triumph. At the end of the sixth day in Genesis, God finished all his work. At the end of the sixth day in John, Jesus declared 'It is finished'. It is accomplished. Creation is healed. In the beginning was the Word; and the last word spoken by the living Word was the word which declared, as Jesus had in the Upper Room, 'I have finished the work you gave me to do' (17.4). That is, of course, how the father, the creator, is glorified. That is how love is perfected, brought to its final completion (13.1)."
3. Wright confirms what the reality of Jesus' death means for us. "And those who pause to contemplate the Good Friday mystery, to reflect, ponder and to pray, will come above all to discover that when we look at the face of the crucified Jesus we are looking into the face of God who loved the world so much that he gave his only son, not to condemn but to save. The good shepherd has loved his own sheep and has given his life for them. ...This is the love that shines out at the very moment when the darkness seemed after all to have overcome the light."
And then this great message: "The light of heaven can heal the darkness within us and within the world; so that, by the power of the creator God and in accordance with the scriptures, we can ourselves become part of that new creation, which for the moment, for the still, sad sabbath rest, lies waiting, buried, within the womb of the old."
And so from here until Sunday we mourn. We quietly meditate. We grieve. Jesus was innocent. We are guilty. But he has taken our guilt on his innocence and died. To quote the old hymn, "Low, in the tomb he lays, Jesus our Lord..." No wonder the skies went dark.