All the awe and magic that the last half of the 20th century allowed, that post-Apocalyptic, pragmatic age when everything had to be provable, that era before cyberspace and CGI technology and magical realism introduced us to deep mystery again – all the awe and magic came into the world on the rich and holy Eves.
The rich and holy Eves had come into the keeping of the years at least a thousand years before. Maybe three or four thousand, for some. No one really knows.
But the Eves are still calendared and still kept everywhere, despite so many changes in the world. The babble of dispute, the disinterest in piety, the exodus from ritual Sundays has not affected the rich and holy Eves one bit.
The Eves are what they always were – times of wonder and power, times when people go out in darkness and gather by candlelight – times when prayer is powerful, and the presence of God can be sensed, whether you believe in God or not.
There are rich and holy Eves in all the religious cultures of this world, and in Christianity there are several, and theyteach us that we cannot find God simply in light alone.
The wonder of the Christian Eves repeatd through the year: Christmas Eve, Easter Eve, All Hallow’s Eve – and Good Friday Eve. The power of God reaches us in the dark Eves, and they commemorate miracles that happen in dark times. Holy birth – Incarnation. Resurrection. The continued presence of the dead among the living. And the beloved gathering in the dark that brings us strength to survive the violent evil which brings death in the Day.
We don’t call it Good Friday Eve. We call it Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, as if we could separate it from the Day it brings us into. As if we could erase the pain, the violent death, and just keep the belovedness we share.
We choose another name, as if all the rich and holy Eves and Days should only bring us joy. As if death were not a necessary part of the story.
Of all the Eves, this brings out the smallest crowds. Yet it is this Eve and the following Day that will bring us to Easter. Resurrection occurs only after pain and separation, only after betrayal and death.
Easter assures us the power of holy darkness, even when shrouded in daylit public violence, is unabated.
And here we are: holding our breath to see if there will be new war; waking to terror day after day; fearing the immigrants among us and the hatred of us that lives across the seas. We would do anything to reach a merry and carefree age, an innocent age, but alas, we cannot. For us, a holy Eve is like a cloak we wrap around ourselves as we face the darkness of this world.
But we are forever hesitant, forever torn between the desire for Easter’s new life, that requires us to live through Friday’s pain, and the temptation instead to run behind the mighty power of weapons and war, so that we will not have to live through Good Friday.
Death is no stranger, taking from us on every day the famous and the familiar, our own dear ones and the unnamed dead who are found brutally killed. The local news gets far more views when there’s a murder, when there are pictures of the pain.
Still, our tentative faith is tested by the tale of Jesus, whipped and scorned, nailed to his cross, dying with few words.
Why can’t he be – Harrison Ford? Hugh Jackman? Chris Hemsworth? Lachy Hulme? The many Batmen?
We all know why – because we can’t, we ourselves cannot make it through life without being betrayed, scorned, mocked, maltreated, abused, without, in the end, being done in.
And the Holy Eve that Jesus sets before us is the sharing of his suffering so that we can also share in his resurrection.
Easter will come. In holy darkness, muddled in mystery, he will arise, not spectacularly but surprising us with joy.
The door is open, and we are invited to come in to holy darkness, to find each other there and to share the blessing of bread and wine and brokenness, till the candles are extinguished, and the good dark gathers us into the long waiting for Easter Eve.
Every good thing God does among us arises in the dark. Slaves leave Egypt. Jonah discovers faith inside the whale. The Ark bobbles on the sea of survival in forty dark days. A child is born. And Easter happens.
Hasten, then, into the gathering of Thursday’s rich and holy Eve. And let Friday come.
Image: Last Supper, by Fra Angelico. 1450. Florence, Italy. Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, Art in the Christian Tradition.