It began as the sort of rumble you feel as much as hear. We were in the dark. It began quietly but quickly built to a frightening, roiling cacophony of dissonant noise, a disturbing sound that demanded our full attention. No one spoke.
Imagine hundreds of people pounding the backs of wooden pews. Imagine a basilica pipe organ in full throttle mimicking thunder. No, it was more like an earthquake! The darkness was smothering. Only a single candle guided our way.
It was Good Friday. My nephew and I were at Tenebrae at the Basilica of St. Mary. The word means shadow or darkness in Latin. The service takes its name from the responsory, Tenebrae factae sunt — “It grew dark.” It did. It has. It does!
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning while it was still dark, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Lk 24:1) Thus begins the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection… while it is still dark!
At the Good Friday service in the Basilica all the lights were extinguished. The Prince of Darkness seemingly triumphs. The vibrating rumble of thunderous noise replicates the earthquake described in the Passion narrative. Like the women coming to the tomb, we had come expecting to commemorate a death.
Unlike the grief-stricken women coming to anoint a dead body, we cannot pretend. A single candle left burning at Tenebrae is processed down the aisle as if it too were leaving the assembly. We will have none of it! Unlike the first to show up at the tomb, we know the conclusion of the story.
The roiling quake of death and darkness will not have its way with us! Louder, ever more cacophonous, people pounding our pews. The organ explodes with an insistent plea. The small flame turns and slowly retreats back up the aisle. Our demanding clamber slowly subsides as the Light of Christ is returned to its central place of honor.
Good Friday 2015. We know the story even in our darkest days, our pleadings before dawn, our confrontation with death. Unlike those who went to the tomb early on the first day of the week, we know the conclusion to the story — for it has become our story, and we know it to be true.
Christ triumphed over death and darkness. Once, for all! We cannot pretend otherwise.
Its 2015 — Jesus Christ is risen! Yes, risen indeed!