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Even the darkness is not dark to You, the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. Amen.
Dr. Gardner Taylor, a pastor and preaching professor, shared this anecdote from his time serving as a minister in Louisiana during the Depression. Electricity was just coming into that part of the country, and he was out in a rural, black church that had just one little light bulb hanging down from the ceiling to light up the whole sanctuary.
He was preaching away, and in the middle of his sermon, all of a sudden, the electricity went out.
The building went pitch black, and Dr. Taylor didn't know what to say, being a young preacher. He stumbled around until one of the elderly deacons sitting in the back of the church cried out, "Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark!"
Good Friday highlights those times in our lives when we cannot see Jesus because of the dark. The darkness that dwells around and within us.
The drama that we relive today leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross holds up a mirror to us, showing us the extent to which anxiety, fear and self-preservation exist within the human heart; gain expression in our communities and are ultimately part and parcel of the human condition. This story holds up a mirror reflecting back to us the shadows that lurk within and around us.
We see the shadows in Judas’ heart. In John’s story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and death, Judas leads the Roman police to the garden where Jesus was. This is our parting image of Judas, as he physically aligns himself with those who have come to arrest Jesus, realigning himself from his place at the dinner table just the night before. This Gospel does not tell us about Judas’ financial negotiation with the Jewish authorities, leaving us with the painful reality of his betrayal, and questions about what was really in his heart, about who he really was.
We see the shadows in Peter’s heart. Maybe Judas wasn’t the most exemplary disciple, but even Peter, a leader in Jesus’ community, when push comes to shove, cannot claim his identity as a follower. Jesus’ response to the police at his arrest “I am” Jesus of Nazareth stands in contrast to Peter’s “I am not” one of his disciples. Peter had followed Jesus for nearly 3 years, had left everything to follow him and now sees a new reality of who Jesus is.
He doesn’t see the Messiah, the man of power who would liberate Israel, and in whose power he too would get to share. He sees a weak and silent Jesus who has willingly given up his power. His foundation is shaken and perhaps he doesn’t want to be a disciple of this vulnerable and humiliated man. But in denying Jesus he denies all that he had seen, heard and lived during those years of ministry. He denies what he had staked his life on and in the process loses his identity.
The Gospel of John is punctuated by Jesus’ “I am” sayings. These sayings draw on a range of symbols – identifying Jesus with bread, life, light and truth. When Jesus makes those “I am” sayings, he claims his identity as the Son of God, the Word that was there at the creation of the world, the God of Israel who became manifest in the burning bush. And these statements shine a bright light of truth, integrity, hope and love into a system of political calculation, fear, domination and oppression.
Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate and the people is the climax of our story today. But when we examine the behaviour of the characters in the drama, the interests driving them, their sense of agency, and their desire to ease themselves out of harm’s way, it would appear that rather than Jesus being on trial, what is being showcased is the brokenness of humanity. It is humanity on trial.
Our humanity was on trial then and continues to be on trial. It is on trial when we witness someone being bullied or excluded or a co-worker being unfairly treated. It is on trial as our neighbours have their water shut-off. It is on trial as people die while trying to cross the Arizona desert. It is on trial as decisions get made about who gets access to healthcare and who doesn’t. It is on trial when the body of a three-year-old Kurdish boy washes up on a Turkish shore. It is on trial as innocent men, women and children die painful deaths at the hands of chemical weapons. It is put on trial as we build and drop bigger and bigger bombs.
Vaclav Havel, a writer and political dissident involved in the Velvet Revolution, a non-violent transition of power from Communist to democratic rule in Czechoslovakia and who later became the First President of the Czech Republic, wrote an essay called The Power of Powerlessness. In it he reflects on systems that humans create, participate in, and are controlled by.
He says: “The essential aims of life are present naturally in every person. In everyone there is some longing for humanity's rightful dignity, for moral integrity, for free expression of being and a sense of transcendence over the world of existence. Yet, at the same time, each person is capable, to a greater or lesser degree, of coming to terms with living within the lie. Each person somehow succumbs to a profane trivialization of his inherent humanity, and to utilitarianism. In everyone there is some willingness to merge with the anonymous crowd and to flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudolife. This is much more than a simple conflict between two identities. It is something far worse: it is a challenge to the very notion of identity itself.”
These forces pull and push against each other. On the one hand, we possess the desire to merge with the anonymous crowd and in order to do that we’ll tolerate living within a lie. And on the other hand we long for moral integrity and for free expression of who we are.
Jesus’ crucifixion shows us what a system can do to someone who dares to live within the freedom of his being, someone who chooses to root his identity firmly in God rather than be subsumed into the agendas of the Jewish religious establishment or the Roman empire or even his instinct for self-preservation.
The cross reflects back to us unpalatable and uncomfortable truths about the shadows within us and our society, and how those shadows react when threatened by light.
But the cross also reflects another truth about who we are. The cross tells us about our belovedness in God’s eyes. Jesus willingly submitted himself to the system. He confronted the weakness and frailty of the human heart and the moral corruption of society and in the process was tortured, humiliated and killed. He plunged headfirst into the depths of the darkness of our brokenness, faithful in his love for humanity. Knowing that those shadows are not the complete image of who we are.
Even in the times when we choose indifference and harden our hearts, seperating us from God and from one another, God sees through that darkness that we create within and around ourselves and sees the wondrous potential and frailty of the human heart and soul.
God sees the divine imprint on each of our souls, and nothing can take that away from us, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not ourselves, not what anyone tells us, not the systems that we are complicit in perpetuating.
And if the recognition of our own brokenness and the sinfulness of the systems we are part of, feel overwhelming and make us feel completely powerless, helpless and small in the face of them, that’s a thing to celebrate! Because then our hearts have been broken open enough to recognize our deep, deep need for God. This is what it means to see Jesus in the dark.
In a book called Dear Pope Francis, the Pope answered questions from children from all over the world. One of the kids asked: “What love do you feel for Jesus?” Francis provided this response: “I don’t know if I love Jesus, I’m not sure of that, but I’m absolutely sure of his love for me.”
As we prepare for the part of the service when we approach the cross, I invite you to offer all that you are - your weakness, doubt and brokenness; your beauty, strength and amazing capacity for love and compassion. Offer it all to God at the foot of the cross and trust that God will gather it all up to let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ our Lord.
 “Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them” (John 18:5)
 Jean Vanier, Drawn into the mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, p. 310-311.