Yesterday at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, here at Notre Dame, I attended a service of prayer and lamentation called “Tenebrae”, remembering the darkness of the night when Christ suffered in Gethsemane and was arrested, and anticipating his death. It closed with a final candle carried out, leaving us in complete darkness, and the congregation producing a loud noise, like the rolling of the stone to close the grave. Today I had a conversation with some friends, in which we reflected on the meaning of these events, and the difference in the darkness from a Mormon point of view.
Tenebrae means, “Shadows.” Surely that was a dark night for Jesus’ followers. He said one puzzling thing after another, told them they must now carry swords, and rebuked them for not staying awake with him in the garden. He pulled the rug from under Peter who had just screwed up his courage to attack the armed posse come to arrest Christ, telling Peter to put away his sword, healing the smitten ear, and giving himself up for arrest without resistance, though all knew this party intended his death. What would his followers do if their Master was put to death? Would they be killed as well? The cock crew, and Peter wept bitterly.
Christ was falsely accused, mocked, beaten, dragged all night from one charade of a court to another. Finally the next day he was nailed to a cross. At noon there suddenly was darkness, and later on, in the darkness, Christ said, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Not long after, he cried out again, and died, and the veil of the temple was torn, and the earth shook. In the New World, there was thick darkness for three days.
Of this time Jesus said, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified . . . and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Glory suggests light. Still, he continued, “Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.” By the time Christ was on the cross, his disciples must have felt worse than disoriented, worse than lost.
And yet in the darkness were heard some of Christ’s most illuminating words, words that made the meaning of his accomplishment clear. The people in the New World heard, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God . . . by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled . . . I am the light and the life of the world . . . And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerengs shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not . . . Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.”
Christ’s death was a terrible thing, and yet through his arrest, trial and death, and in the darkness that followed, he showed us more fully who he is and how to follow him, the light of the world.