In his account of the first Good Friday, St. Matthew tells us that “from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.” (Mt. 27:45) And in his Life of Christ, Bishop Sheen says that the last judgment was prefigured on Calvary. The darkness can be taken as a sign of judgment: Jesus hangs between two men, one on his right and the other on his left—one destined for Heaven and the other for Hell. Amos (8:9) prophesied a “Day of doom . . . when there shall be sunset at noon and earth shall be overshadowed . . .” And Jesus himself prophesied about his Passion: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31)
The worldwide ordeal of the Covid pandemic can be seen as a kind of darkness that “fell upon all the land.” But here, “darkness” is a metaphor meaning the suspension of ordinary life, the threat of harm, or fear of the unknown. However, in the gospel story of the Passion, the darkness is literal: It is a “mighty work,” a sacred sign, one last miracle before the resurrection.
The crucifixes that many Christians venerate on Good Friday are visible; but Jesus hanging on the cross was shrouded in darkness. The brutal, raucous, voices that accompanied his walk to Golgotha were stilled, so that people could hear the words he spoke from the cross. It must have been his words out of the darkness that moved the heart of the man hanging at his side to ask to be remembered when he came into his kingdom, and, after Jesus died, the soldier standing at his feet to say, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”
What was it in our Lord’s words from the cross that particularly struck these men? I think it was his loving innocence: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Such words, of an innocent man loving his enemies, conveyed the Holy Spirit to the hearts of these two men, inspiring them to profess their faith. The loving innocence, the purity, of Jesus shone out to their minds like light in the midst of darkness—the darkness of sin, the sins of the whole world, all of man’s sins from time’s beginning to its end, which were enshrouding and crucifying Jesus.
Teaching his disciples about the final judgment, Jesus had quoted Isaiah: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. This darkness was to be the last of the great signs “preceding his coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Mt. 24:29-30) The darkness that enshrouded Jesus at his death was the last great sign before his resurrection.
Just as Jesus died in darkness, so he rose in the darkness of night, invisibly; but he met the first witness to his resurrection in the light of dawn, first light, first day of the week—the first day of the new creation. The Bible mentions darkness in its account of the original creation (Gen. 1:2-3): “the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the face of the deep.” Then, it goes on to say, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. So the darkness of Good Friday, the Spirit brooding over it, gives way to the light of Easter.
Christians should think about the metaphorical “darkness” of the Covid pandemic that forced the temporary suspension of ordinary life as what insurance companies call an “act of God”: God’s providence, his ruling hand, at work. We see it as a providential suspension of ordinary life; a chance to sort out what should be kept in it, and what should be thrown out of it; we see it as God’s spur to unlearn the vices we accept as normal and to re-learn the virtues that make us good; most of all, we see it as a spur to learn the meaning of what St. Paul, looking at the cross of Jesus, tells us: “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5:2)