A Meditation for Holy Week – “And It Was Night”
It was night
It was night
turned grey –
It was night
her fickle face
It was night
from that place
far away –
“And It Was Night” A poem by Victoria Field based on John 13.21-32
The theology of glorification, the glorification of the Son of God, is the central theme of the second half of St John’s Gospel from where tonight’s reading comes. For John, Jesus’s final story begins with a supper – not a Passover supper as the synoptic tradition understood, but with a supper preceding the Passover. Jesus is alone with his chosen disciples, including Judas. Jesus knew that his hour had come. The powers of darkness were closing in – Satan had already put it into Judas’s heart to deliver Jesus up to the authorities. And Jesus – knowing that his Father had put everything into his hands, and that his story, which began with the Father, would end with his return to the Father – sets in train a series of events that would lead to the cross and to his glorification. For us, of course – from our perspective, there is a paradox – we see betrayal and injustice that will lead to persecution, suffering and death.
Victoria, in her poem which speaks of sun and moon, light and dark, day and night, places this paradox before us. Matthew, Mark and Luke in their gospels mainly make a contrast between two ages – between this age, and the age to come. John however, in his Gospel, makes a contrast between two worlds – the world above and the world below: “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (Jn 8.23). It is into this world, which stands in contrast to the world above, that Jesus comes to be light (Jn 11.9). This world is the realm of darkness, and Jesus is himself the light (Jn 8.12). The sun rises in the sky, as if to show itself to us in all its brightness and freshness – “What was come into being was life”, John records at the beginning of his Gospel, “and the life was the light of all people” (Jn 1.3b-4). And Victoria writes: “It was night – the horizon swallowed the sun; it was night, rainbows turned grey – painters wept. The moon showed her fickle face, thieves took joy from that place” – “and it was night” (Jn 13.30).
Why did John include this one seemingly insignificant detail? “And it was night” (Jn 13.30). The darkness of night shows us the contrast between Jesus, the light of the world, and the powers of darkness. Throughout that night, and throughout the days that follow, it appears that darkness has triumphed over the light. Judas leads a group of soldiers and betrays Jesus with a kiss. Jesus is arrested, brought to trial, and finally brutally beaten and nailed to a cross to die. When Jesus’s dead body is laid in the tomb and the grave is sealed, darkness does indeed conquer the light. There is no glorification here. All hope would be gone if it were not for the reminder that comes from the opening verses of John’s gospel: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”. (Jn 1.5)
During Holy Week we are presented with the reality of darkness. It is the reality of human betrayal. In spite of the fact that light has come into the world, human-beings love darkness rather than light. Those for whom Jesus had been born refuse to come to the light because their deeds were evil. In John’s Gospel the crowing evil is hatred of the light – unbelief in Jesus.
Jesus’s opening words, recorded by John, deeply penetrate our being – they expose the weakness of our nature: “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Jn 13.21). In the darkness of this moment, to whom does Jesus speak? It is far too easy for us to glance knowingly at Judas – to point the finger at him and away from ourselves – for this is the story not only of personal betrayal, but of human betrayal – betrayal by humankind: “It was night, thieves took joy from that place” – and then Victoria exposes the raw truth of the moment: “stars strayed far away – and someone slept”.
Who really betrayed Jesus that night? Who was it that strayed? And who was it that slept? Mark records that they all began to be sorrowful and began to say to Jesus “Is it I?” (Mk 14.19). In our sorrow at the unfolding of the events of Jesus’s Passion, we have to ask the same question “Is it I?”
“Stars strayed far away and someone slept”. We are brought face to face with the reality of human betrayal. Judas goes about his business and it was night. He goes out into the night – not only into the physical night where the rays of the physical sun could not penetrate, but also, away from Jesus’s presence – into that spiritual night where the light of the true sun did not shine.
“And someone slept”. Where was the blind man who had received his sight? Where was the lame man who had been healed? Or the sick Gentile boy who had been made well? Where were the hungry who had been fed, the lepers who had been cleansed, and the deaf who could now hear? And where were Jairus’s daughter, and the widow’s son, and Lazarus, all of whom Jesus had raised from the dead?
“Stars strayed far away and someone slept” … “Is it I?” We are brought face to face with the reality of human betrayal. We are brought face to face with our own vulnerability and weakness. God’s Son is betrayed, and someone slept.