A few weeks ago, in The Globe and Mail, I read an essay from a mother whose seven-year-old was born with a disability that causes cognitive delays. He was happy, and close to his brother. But he didn’t have many friends. He liked to play bingo with two wooden toys. Most of the time, this mom wrote, she got by just fine, swept up in her busy days. But in the early hours of the morning, when the rest of the house was quiet, that is when she sometimes would lie awake and go down, as she put it, an unsettling road. She even noted the time – and I imagined her checking the clock as she lay awake ruminating. It happened at 3:14. That is the hour, she wrote, when dark thoughts surface.
And so we have arrived, in our Lenten Journey, at our own 3:14. The hour of dark thoughts and darker deeds. Jesus has been betrayed, denied three times, abandoned by his friends, and cast away. He has been sentenced not just to death, but to the most gruesome of deaths. In this hour of dark deeds, he is on the way to Calvary, stumbling under the weight of the cross, mocked by people on either side, wheezing for breath. In this hour, he has been nailed to the cross, steel slicing through his flesh in excruciating but not killing blows. In this hour, he is hanging there, alive and yet not living. In this dark hour, we hear him asking out loud: God, why have you forsaken me? — his faith, the most solid rock of the gospel, having slipped just a little in the agony of his humanity. In this darkest hour, we are both Jesus – wondering at the seeming absence of hope – and we are the ones who put him there to die, not yet mired in our coming guilt and grief. The absence of hope, the mire of guilt, the weight of grief. These are the visitors that come seeking us when our own clocks read 3:14, and our house is in shadows and everyone is asleep.
This is, unfortunately, not the hour of our rescue. Not the moment when God will cast in the sun and the night will lift. This is the time when we lie with our darkest fears and our biggest mistakes. When we stand at the foot of the cross and ask: Why has this happened? What will we do now?
I know many people for whom those wee hours of the morning are dark times indeed. When a grieving spouse wakes suddenly to a bed that’s not supposed to be empty on one side. When worries about health, or money, or kids shout us out of sleep. Why does it happen then, when there is no one to answer? I imagine it’s because, just like the disciples on the journey to Good Friday, there are so many distractions, so much to be done, so much other stuff. Even though they knew what was happening – did they really “know”? Even at the last supper, did they understand? How could they? And yet, I am sure, in the stillness under the cross, the reality was coming home, heaved at them like a brick. It had come to pass. Jesus was murdered. There was no saving him. It is silence that tells us the truth.
Or does it? At 3:14 in the morning, our worries and fears may be so loud they feel unbearable. But they are instructive. They alert us to what is pressing on our mind, they help us mull through our problems, they should reveal to us what is going wrong or what has been a mistake. But do they speak the final truth?
Does that spouse not get up the next day and find company among friends and family? Will that mom worrying about her son’s friends not wake to see him playing happily with his little brother? Did the disciples not stand at the cross of Jesus, believing him dead, only to learn later that the story was far from over?
Good Friday is the time not to think about what comes next, but to stand at the foot of the cross, to lie in the dark of a bed and listen closely. To live thoughtfully requires listening not only to others, but also to our own voices. What is it we feel in our own 3:14 reckonings – regret, shame, guilt? What is our part in it? What might we do to move past it? Can we face it? Will we learn from it?
Stand still on Good Friday. Hear what whispers come our way in the silence. In many ways, this is the most essential moment in our Lenten journey – the place to which all our contemplation should lead us. To hear more clearly, to see ourselves more clearly. In the silence, God is listening. And the answer is coming.