The central figures present before the Sacrament for the Life of the World are Jesus on the eve of Sacrifice and Satan on the eve of battle to restore the darkness.
As I begin this eleventh Holy Week post behind These Stone Walls all the world is thrust under a shroud of darkness. A highly contagious and pernicious coronavirus threatens an entire generation of the most vulnerable among us on a global scale. Many Catholics face Holy Week without the visible support and consolation of a faith community. Many of our older loved ones face it entirely alone, separated from social networks and in dread of an unknown future darkness.
A week or so before writing this, I became aware of a social media exchange between two well-meaning Catholics. One had posted a suggestion that a formula for “exorcized holy water” would repel this new viral threat. The other cautioned how very dangerous such advice could be for those who would substitute it for clear and reasoned clinical steps to protect ourselves and others. I take a middle view. All the medical advice for social distancing and prevention must be followed, but spiritual protection should not be overlooked. Satan may not be the cause of all this, but he is certainly capable of manipulating it for our hopelessness and spiritual demise.
This “down time” might be a good time to reassess where we are spiritually. A sort of “new age” culture has infiltrated our Church in the misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council since the 1960s. There is a secularizing trend to reduce Jesus to the nice things He said in the Beatitudes and beyond to the exclusion of who He was and is, and what Jesus has done to overcome the darkest of our dark. In a recent post, I asked a somewhat overused question with its answer in the same title: “What Would Jesus Do? He Would Raise Up Lazarus – and Us.” Without that answer, faith is reduced to just a series of quotes.
By design or not I do not know, but the current darkness drew me in this holiest of weeks to a scene in the Gospel that is easy to miss. There are subtle differences in the Passion Narratives of the Gospels which actually lend credence to the accounts. They reflect the testimony of eye witnesses rather than scripts. One of these subtle variations involves the mysterious presence of Satan in the story of Holy Week.
This actually begins early in the Gospel of Luke (Ch.4) in an account I wrote about in “Forty Days of Lent in a Church Wandering in the Desert.” Placed in Luke’s Gospel after the Baptism of Jesus and God’s revelation that Jesus is God’s “Beloved Son,” Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert wilderness for forty days. He is subjected there to a series of temptations by the devil. In the end, unable to turn Jesus from his path to light, “the devil departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)
That opportune time comes later in Luke’s Gospel, in Chapter 22. There, just as preparations for the Passover are underway, the conspiracy to kill Jesus arises among the chief priests and scribes. They must do this in the dead of night for Jesus is surrounded by crowds in the light of day. They need someone who will reveal where Jesus goes to rest at night and how they can identify him in the darkness.
Remember, there is no artificial light. The dark of night in First Century Palestine is a blackness like no one today has ever seen. This will require someone who has been slyly and subtly groomed by Satan, someone lured by a lust for money. This is the opportune time awaited by the devil in the desert:
- “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the Twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and the captains how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and engaged to give him money. So he agreed and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of the multitude.” (Luke 22:3-6)
THE HOUR OF DARKNESS
In Catholic tradition, the Passion Narrative from the Gospel of John is proclaimed on Good Friday. In that account, there is a striking difference in the chronology. Satan enters Judas, not in the preparations for Passover, but later the same day, shockingly at the Table of the Lord at the Last Supper on the eve of Passover:
- “So when he dipped the morsel, Jesus gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then, after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’… So after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out, and it was night.” (John 13:26-27, 30)
Who could not be struck by those last few words, “and it was night”? They describe not only the time of day, but also the spiritual condition into which Judas has fallen. Judas and Satan are characters in this account from the Temptation of Jesus in the desert to the betrayal of Jesus in the hour of darkness. But darkness itself is also a character in this story. The word “darkness” appears 286 times in Sacred Scripture and “night” appears 365 times (which, ironically, is the exact number of nights in a year).
For their spiritual meaning, darkness and night are often used interchangeably. In St. John’s account of the betrayal by Judas, the fact that he “went out, and it was night” is highly symbolic. In the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, darkness was the element of chaos. The primeval abyss in the Genesis Creation story lay under chaos. God’s first act of creation was to dispel the darkness with the intrusion of light.” God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4) which, in the view of Saint Augustine, was the moment Satan fell. In the Book of Job, God stores darkness in a chamber away from the path to light. God uses this imagery to challenge Job to know his place in spiritual relation to God:
- “Have you, Job, commanded the dawn since your days began, and caused it to take hold of the skirts of the Earth for the wicked to be shaken out of it? … Do you know the way to the dwelling of light? Do you know the place of darkness?” (Job 38:12,19)
In the Book of Exodus, darkness is one of the plagues imposed upon Egypt. For the Prophet Amos (8:9) the supreme disaster is darkness at noon. In Isaiah (9:1) darkness implies defeat, captivity, oppression. It is the element of evil in which the wicked does its work (Ezekiel 8:12). It is the element of death, the grave, and the underworld (Job 10:21). In the Dead Sea Scrolls is a document called, “The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.” In the great Messianic Proclamation of Isaiah (9:2): “The People who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
In the New Testament, the metaphors of light and darkness deepen. In the Gospel of Matthew (8:12, 22:13) sinners shall be cast into the darkness. In the Gospel of Mark (13:24) is the catastrophic darkness of the eschatological judgment. The Gospel of John is filled with metaphors of darkness and light. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus confronts those who plot against him as under the influence of darkness and Satan:
- “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father, the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:42-44)
I once wrote about the person of Judas and the great mystery of his betrayal, his life, and his end in “Judas Iscariot: Who Prays for the Soul of the Betrayer?” At the Passover meal and the Table of the Lord, he dipped his morsel only to exit into the darkness. In the original story of the Passover in Exodus (13:15-18) God required the lives of the firstborn sons of Pharoah and all Egypt to deliver His people from bondage. Now, in the Hour of Darkness set in motion by Satan and Judas, God will exact from Himself that very same price, and for the very same reason.
THE HOUR OF LIGHT
Biblical Hebrew had no word for “hour,” nor was such a term used as a measure of time. In the Roman and Greek cultures of the New Testament, the day was divided into twelve units. The term “hour” in the New Testament does not signify a measure of time but rather an expectation of an event. The “Hour of Jesus” is prominent in the Gospel of John and also mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus is cited in John as saying that His Hour has not yet come (7:30 and 8:20). When it does come, it is the Hour in which the Son of Man is glorified (John 12:23; 17:1).
In the Gospel of Luke (22:53), Jesus said something ominous to the chief priests and captains of the Temple who came, led by Judas (and Satan), to arrest Him: “When I was with you day after day in the Temple, you did not lay hands on me but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
In all of Salvation History there has never been an Hour of Darkness without an Hour of Light. In the Passion of the Christ the two were not subsequent to each other, but rather parallel, arising from the same event rooted in sacrifice. This was the ultimate thwarting of Satan’s “opportune time.” Jesus, through sacrifice, did not just defeat Satan’s plan, but used its Hour of Darkness to bring about the Hour of Light.
Amazingly, “Light” and “Darkness” each appear exactly 288 times in Sacred Scripture. It is especially difficult to separate the darkness from the light in the Passion Narratives of the Gospel. Both are necessary for our redemption. Without darkness there is no sacrifice or even a need for sacrifice.
The Hour of Light began, not at Calvary, but at the Institution of the Eucharist at The Last Supper, the Passover meal with Jesus and His Apostles. The Words of Institution of the Eucharist are remarkably alike in substance and form in each of the Synoptic Gospels and in St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians (11:23).
The sacrificial nature of the Words of Institution and their intent at bringing about communion with God are most prominent in the oldest to come into written form, that of Saint Paul:
- “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the chalice, after supper, saying, ‘This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
The enormity of this gift, the beginning of the Hour of Light, comes in the midst of words like “betrayal” and “death.” It is most interesting that the Gospel of John, which has Satan enter Judas at the Passover Table of the Lord, has no words for the formula of Institution of the Eucharist. But John clearly knows of it. The Gospel of John presents a clear theological allusion to the Eucharistic Feast in John 6:47-51:
- “Truly, Truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The term “will live forever” appears only three times in all of Sacred Scripture: twice in the above passage from John, and once in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in Genesis 3:22. There, God expels Adam and Eve from Eden for attempting to be like God. It is a preventive measure in Genesis “lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.” For John’s Gospel, what was denied to Adam is now freely given through the Sacrifice of Christ.
It is somewhat of a mystery why the Gospel of John places so beautifully his account of the Institution of the Eucharist there in Chapter 6 just after Jesus miraculously feeds the multitude with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, and then omits the actual Words of Institution from the Passover meal, the setting for The Last Supper in each of the other Gospels and in Saint Paul’s account.
Perhaps, on a most basic level, the Apostle John, beloved of the Lord, could not bring himself to include these words of sacrifice with Satan having just left the room. At a more likely level, John implies the Eucharist theologically through the entire text of his Gospel. In the end, after a theological and prayerful discourse at table, Jesus prays for the Church:
- “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3)
Now Comes the Hour of the Son of God, The Cross stood only for darkness and death until souls were illumined by the Cross of Christ. From the Table of the Lord, the lights stayed on in the Sanctuary Lamp of the Soul.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Take a time out from anxiety and isolation this Holy Week by spending time in the Hour of Light with these related posts from These Stone Walls:
- The Feast of Corpus Christi and the Order of Melchizedek
- Waking Up in the Garden of Gethsemane
- The Chief Priests Answered, ‘We Have No King But Caesar’
- Simon of Cyrene, Compelled to Carry the Cross
- Dismas, Crucified to the Right: Paradise Lost and Found
- Mary Magdalene: Faith, Courage, and an Empty Tomb