“O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.” So reads the fifth stanza of “Dark Night,” the poem from which we get the saying, “the dark night of the soul.” But notice how the poet—the sixteenth century mystic John of the Cross—doesn’t convey a sense of fear or anxiety. Instead, this song is about the “beloved” who has found solace in God. But it took the cover of “darkness” for this transformation to occur.
This week we find ourselves at the culmination of the 2021 Lenten season. Just like in the biblical account, the weeks leading up to this moment seem to have been a blur. But now time is slowing down again, sharpening our view as things come to a screeching halt at Good Friday. But given what occurs, many have asked, “what’s so good about it?”
Luke’s Gospel has Jesus proclaim with his last breath, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23.46). While this verse is familiar, it portends a voyage into the darkness. The ecumenical version of the Apostles’ Creed tells us that Jesus “descended to the dead” during this time, a mission of plumbing the depths of desolation and despair as only God could. It is a time of silence. It is a time of mystery. It is a time of deep, abiding trust. And the “darkness” of Good Friday is one through which all Christians must pass.
The mystery of Friday—and Saturday—is a time of transformation. It’s under the cover of this darkness that God comes to us, softly, silently. But before we can respond, we have to “descend” into the depths of our very selves and face the demons that would blind us to the loving reality of the cross. We must die to the old self, imitating Christ’s self-emptying for us, and trusting in the Spirit’s promise to enliven us once again.
The first “Good Friday” inaugurated a new age. In the years since, many have commemorated this time by setting aside these final hours of Lent as sacred moments of reflection and introspection. My prayer as the season winds down, in this liminal time between Friday and Easter, is that we the beloved remain faithfully grounded in love and can share in the refrain, “O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn!” That makes for a “good” Friday—and every day beyond.