A Meditation for the Christian Holy Week
In October, 2001, I had the privilege of being deployed to New York City to assist with the recovery from the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. One of my responsibilities as a chaplain was to accompany family members to the site where they witnessed for the first time the crude crematorium where their loved ones died. I will never forget the reaction of one woman. A graduate of the University of Berkley in California in the 1960s, she struggled to comprehend the absolute horror of what was in front of her. As she stared at the still smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers she kept saying to herself, over and over: “It’s evil. It’s evil. It’s evil.” It seemed as if she mentally had no category to help her comprehend the awfulness of what she was witnessing.
According to Mark’s description of Jesus’ crucifixion, darkness enveloped the area when Jesus was hanging on the cross. The darkness began at noon- the brightest time of the day—and lasted until 3:00 PM when Jesus finally expired. Was this a solar eclipse? Perhaps, but three hours is a long time for an eclipse. It is better to understand the darkness metaphorically. I’m not suggesting that the darkness wasn’t real; I believe it was. But light and darkness are a universal metaphor for good and evil. Jesus’ words, spoken in Aramaic and recorded for future readers in the original language, reinforce this understanding. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
According to the writer John, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (I John 1:5). Jesus himself claimed, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12). Now, the “Light of the World,” the One who had come from God (John 13:3), the Holy One of God (John 6:69), the One who had no sin (I Corinthians 5:21) was now enveloped in darkness, abandoned by God, experiencing the full power of unmitigated evil. The Father, who loves the Son (John 3:35) and confides in Him everything he does (John 5:20) now abandons his Son to face the darkness all by Himself. The special relationship that exists within the Trinitarian Godhead has been ripped apart by the power of evil.
It is impossible to overstate the horror of this text. The horror of the Berkley graduate at the sight of the smoldering World Trade Center ought to be the horror of the believer that dares look at the Savior dying on the cross: “It’s evil. It’s evil. It’s evil.”
The Apostle Paul reminds us, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (I Corinthians 5:21). The horrible cross from which we turn our gaze away is also a wondrous cross. By his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
The wonder of that horrible cross goes beyond our personal. When Christ experienced the full power of evil in that noontime darkness, he was experiencing all the evil of this world. Christ was experiencing the power of evil that motivates terrorists to hijack a plane full of civilians and force it to crash into a skyscraper. He died for the evil that led to slavery in our nation based simply on skin color. He died for the evil of Jim Crow. He died to redeem systemic racism and generational poverty. He died to redeem a world that struggles with global warming. He died for a world that experiences earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear meltdowns as happened in Japan on March 11, 2011.
Sometimes the sheer evil in this world overwhelms me. With the Psalmist, I look heavenward and cry, “How long?” My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? (Psalm 6:3). How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? (Psalm 82:2). How long will the wicked be jubilant? (Psalm 94:3). I long for a world where justice reigns and God’s shalom (peace) is experienced by all. But so often all I see is the darkness of evil. At such times I need to remember that Jesus experienced a darkness deeper than I will ever begin to understand. I need to remember that He faced the full power of demonic evil, alone, on Calvary’s cross. This is the Christian hope. The darkness of the cross is not the final word. Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15). The principalities and powers of darkness are not in control of this world. They have been defeated, replaced by an Easter lightening (Matthew 28:3) and a Creation garden (John 20:1-18) where the tomb is empty and tears are dried. The powers of darkness and evil, both individual and social, have been faced head-on and have been defeated. “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”