When Darkness Rules

Monday, December 17, 2012 — Week of 3 Advent, Year 1

William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart, Prophetic Witnesses, 1879

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 938)

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)

Isaiah 8:16 – 9:1

2 Peter 1:1-11

Luke 22:39-53

“But this is your time, when darkness rules.” (Luke 22:53b; CEB)

On the Mount of Olives Jesus’ prayer “save us from the time of trial” shifts. The time of trial is now inevitable. It cannot be avoided without his surrender of of his own integrity and identity. His prayer changes. Now he prays, “Father, if it is you will, take this cup of suffering from me. However, not my will, but your will must be done.” (22:41)

What an amazing prayer. From any available perspective, there is nothing good that can come out of Jesus’ arrest. The future course of action is entirely predictable. It will be corrupt. Those with power will exercise that power corruptly. They will lie. Then they will act with violence. He will suffer. And more than that, even before he begins to suffer, he will know that his cause is hopeless. There is no escape. He will be humiliated, ridiculed, and destroyed publicly. His death will be slow and horrible. All of this is utterly predictable in the political landscape of Jesus’ day.

How can this be God’s will? That’s what I would have been asking. How can it be God’s will for this kind of evil to prevail? …for this kind of goodness to be destroyed?

I don’t think Jesus knew the answers any more than I. I think the only thing he had to fall back on was his utter trust in God and the hope that God would prevail despite the appearances of this present time. Jesus’ internal struggle was utter anguish — “His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (22:43b) The trust Jesus offers is difficult beyond imagination. It is easier to curse God and die, angry and “righteous.” It is also easier to fight.

But this is not a Messiah who fights. “Lord, should we fight with our swords?” his friends ask. (22:49b) And, like so many of Jesus’ followers afterward, one of them takes a sword and attempts to defend Jesus by using force, striking the slave of the high priest. “No more of this!” cries Jesus. And Jesus heals the injured enemy. (22:51) For several hundred years the church followed this command literally, and soldiers left their employment in order to be baptized into the Christian movement.

Jesus then speaks of the folly of all of this display of force. He was always vulnerable. They could have arrested him at any time, such as when he was teaching in the temple. But this is the way darkness does its work. In darkness. Grabbing people silently in the dark and shutting them away, where no one can see what they will do.

It seems like there should have been other alternatives. Why couldn’t Jesus have called to God like the prophets and judges of old and be rescued by legions of angels? Why couldn’t he convince his accusers by the power of his voice and change their hearts? Neither the appeal to force or goodness was adequate, it seems. It wasn’t adequate to overcome the evil. Apparently, it wasn’t adequate for the will of God either.

Dorothy Sayers has said, “God did not abolish the fact of evil. He transformed it. He did not stop the crucifixion. He rose from the dead.”

Darkness has its day. We can look around our world and see it. Sometimes we can look within our own world and know it. When we meet a reality that has the face of evil, or when we meet something that holds inevitable destruction over something we love, darkness has its day. There are times when we must face that which we would be delivered from. Every once in a while the prayer “save us from the time of trial” must become “not my will, but your will must be done.”

In the face of such a trial, we have Jesus as our forerunner and companion. He knows this territory. He knows our weakness and dread. He has felt our anguish. He knows what it means to trust when faced with a hopeless situation. He has experienced defeat, pain, and death. Because he has, evil has been transformed. Evil is not the last word. Because he has risen from the dead, everything threatened by the forces of death shall know resurrection.

But in the hour when darkness rules, it is anguish.

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