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Good Friday: In the Dark

Good Friday might be the toughest Christian holiday to celebrate. I even feel uncomfortable saying “celebrate” because today we commemorate the gruesome, terrifying, scandalous death of Jesus.

It’s a dark story. His friends betray him, desert him, and deny him. His enemies capture him, torture him, and crucify him. His death is excruciating and humiliating. Those who believed in him are left devastated, disillusioned, and depressed. Hardly cause for celebration—unless there’s something else at work in this story.

And there is something else going on here. Death is not the end. Resurrection is coming. We know that Jesus conquers the grave, and the cross is the weapon Jesus uses not just to threaten evil, but to overcome it. Good Friday means nothing without Easter Sunday. And yet, sometimes we can be too eager to jump into celebrating resurrection and new life, too ready to bypass the darkness of Good Friday, because it feels like dusty death, for the light of Easter Sunday, because it feels shiny and new. I think we fail to fully understand the story if we are too uncomfortable with the darkness of Good Friday to sit there for a while in the dark.

Many of the Church fathers and mothers came to understand the darkness as a place that frees us from our misconceptions of God and allows for a truer understanding of and connection to God’s presence. The darkness frightens us, they say, but maybe the thing we least want to look at is the thing we most need in order to see. Walter Brueggemann suggests that God is best known in this darkness of unknowing: “We know you are beyond us, unutterable, hidden, refusing all our manufactured labels. You are known in hiddenness, powerful in suffering, whole in woundedness” (Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth). Barbara Brown Taylor suggests “If you are willing to enter the cloud of unknowing and meet God in the dark—maybe even the dark of a tomb—you might be in for a surprise. The great hope in the Christian message is not that you will be rescued from the dark, but if you are able to trust God all the way into the dark, you may be surprised” (Learning to Walk in the Dark). There seems to be something fundamentally necessary about the dark. And then remembering that from darkness God made everything makes me think that it is by living through the darkness of Good Friday that we are made like Christ.

Today as we observe Good Friday, the darkness deepens, the Lord grows troubled, and we are shaped as we share in his suffering. Jesus does not run from the darkness, does not hide from his accusers, does not fade into safe obscurity. He steps with determination into the darkness, willingly giving himself to whip and fist, to wood and nails.

Can we watch with him? Can we be the companions who journey with him to the end?

As the darkness encroaches, I remember what this journey means and count again the cost of Love. I am stunned by what Jesus willingly endured to usher all creation into a new life with God. And I take time to sit with the darkness lest I become too familiar with this story, lest I take Jesus’s suffering too lightly, receive God’s grace too cheaply, give up on the fresh wind of the Spirit too easily. So I find myself celebrating in the darkness of this day, not because I will be rescued and made new, but because it is specifically in and through the darkness that I am being made new.