“The Light Shines in the Darkness” (John 1:1-5, 9-14)

Good Friday
April 2, 2021

“The Light Shines in the Darkness” (John 1:1-5, 9-14)

Tonight we’re doing a traditional Good Friday evening service called “Tenebrae.” The Latin word, “tenebrae,” means “shadows” or “darkness.” This is the Service of the Shadows, the Service of Darkness–moving to complete darkness at the end of the service. This reminds us of the darkness that came over the land when Christ was hanging on the cross, the great darkness that occurred when the author of life was put to death. And then his lifeless body was placed in the tomb, and night fell, and all was darkness and shadows. The loud noise that will come at the end of this service, called the “strepitus”–that will remind us either of the earthquake at the time of Christ’s death or of the shutting of the tomb, when the heavy stone is rolled into place. In either case, the sound will signify the finality of death. Boom! Death wins.

This is the time of darkness and shadows. It seems that darkness has covered the earth. The one who had done only good, a righteous man–murdered. The one who had brought healing and had shown God’s mercy to so many–dead. The one in whom men had put their hope, now has been killed, and hope died with him. Jesus of Nazareth–crucified, dead, and buried. Now what?

The light has gone out of the world. We sit in darkness and shadows. Look around you, and all you will see are dying people. You will see suffering and hurting people, people losing hope. Shadows everywhere. The shadow called cancer, casting its gloom over lives once bright and cheerful. The shadow of old age, which creeps up on all of us and turns our hair white, our skin wrinkled, and our bones brittle. There are other shadows, too, shadows called virus and violence, divorce and depression, debt and death. Deep, dark shadows, everywhere we turn.

We sit in darkness and in shadows. Look inside you. There you will find no light of your own. The heart of darkness lies within us all. There are dark, hidden places inside, places of lovelessness and lust, of selfishness and sin–vile places, ugly places. We try to hide those dark, hidden recesses from others–and we may succeed to some extent. We can put on a good show. We may try to hide the darkness from ourselves. We may even try to hide it from God. But the fact is, that is not going to work. God sees the darkness in our heart. Don’t kid yourself.

Shadows and darkness, death and grief and sadness. People hurting other people, people hurting themselves. People turning their backs on God, wanting nothing to do with God. They have no desire to listen to God’s word. Men and women become their own gods, each one living for self, following the desires of their own sinful heart. The prevailing opinions in the pop culture–this is what people think they need to go along with. Such is our society in 2021. People have no use for God or for his church. Headline this week: “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.” We are living in a post-Christian culture. Darkness all around us.

But the darkness has been around a long time. It was there when Jesus came into this world, this land of shadows. He came bringing light with him, light from above. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The eternal Son of God was coming into the world, the one who was in the beginning with God: the Word, the Logos, through whom the heavens and the earth were created, when God said, “Let there be light.” This is Jesus, the Word made flesh, the one who declares, “I am the light of the world.”

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” Here was the true light, but men preferred the darkness. They wanted to extinguish the light, because the light was exposing their evil deeds. That’s how we humans are. We want to hide from God, to keep his searchlight from shining in the dark recesses that we’re trying to keep hidden. That’s how sin works. And so they kill the author of life. They get him condemned falsely and nailed to a cross. Darkness falls over the land. The last candle, it seems, is going out. Extinguished. Snuffed out. Nothing but darkness. Is this the end of the story? It sure seems that way. Strepitus! Boom! Death wins.

Is this the end? No, it’s just the beginning. St. John tells us the truth: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The loud noise, the strepitus, the sound of the stone being rolled into place and sealing the tomb–that sound will be matched on Easter morning when the stone is rolled away. The loud noise, the strepitus, the sound of the earthquake when Jesus dies–that will be matched on Easter morning at the earthquake when he rises. The darkness over the land on Friday will yield to the light dawning on Sunday. Look for the return of the light this Sunday morning. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Sunday’s light comes out of Friday’s darkness. Ironically, the light of Christ is shining at its brightest in his dying. This is how the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. It is when Christ is lifted up on the cross that he shines like a beacon in the night, giving light to everyone in the world. For there on the cross Jesus took all our dark deeds, our heart of darkness, everything that causes pain and sadness and death–he took it all into himself. He became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Our beautiful Savior shines fairest when he takes the darkness of death from us and replaces it with his light and life. Good Friday darkness leads to Easter resurrection light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” And so now “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” You who believe in Christ, you have the light.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Or what shall I fear? Shall I fear condemnation and judgment? No, Christ has won forgiveness for our sins and release from our guilt. Shall I fear the Grim Reaper, Death itself? No, Christ has conquered death by his death and resurrection. Shall I fear loneliness or loss, despair or decline? No, because Christ has placed us into his loving family, the church, where we care for one another. Shall I fear whatever is my thorn in the flesh? No, for God’s grace is sufficient for me, his strength is made perfect in weakness. Whom shall I fear? No one.

Whom shall I thank? The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father of lights, who gives us every good gift from above. His Son, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, by whose death and resurrection we have light and life. And the Holy Spirit, who enlightens our minds, working faith in our hearts through the light of the gospel. Yes, dear friends, tonight we may sit in the shadows, but, thank God, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Published in: on April 2, 2021 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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