You probably know the medieval English carol Tomorrow shall be my
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love; This have I done for my
It’s a carol usually sung at Christmas - but the original ballad contains
these rather unChristmassy verses:
The night is closing in: the enemies of goodness, some of them thinking they do the
Lord’s work, are closing in as well. Even at the supper table there are those who are
singing from a different hymn sheet; whose mind is set on betrayal. There are those
indeed who will say one thing and do another; those who do not know what they will do
until confronted by overwhelming force - when they will crumble, disappear into the
crowd. In the poignant words of St John’s gospel “They all forsook him and fled”.
The cathedral congregation waits in rapt attention, the electric
lights are dimmed and then extinguished, the organist comes to
the end of J S Bach’s Nun Kom der Heiden Heiland. The ancient
gothic spaces are now still, though packed with more than 1,500
people, attentive, silent and expectant. In the silence and the
darkness a single, flickering candle is lit. Everyone in the
cathedral can see it, tall and towering on its magnificent stand.
Sermon preached at Compline on the Tuesday of Holy Week, Preparing for Darkness 2 (Fr Jeremy Davies)Read Now
Simon and Garfunkel may have regarded darkness as an old friend, and we too may
recognise the sympathetic, life embracing aspects that we associate with the dark night.
Just to pick out some of those in the paragraph on your sheet of ‘dark texts’ by Ian
Matthew (see below 1) - stillness, rest, peace, silence, sleep, dreams, moonlight, stars,
refreshment, romance - and so on. But these positive aspects of darkness stand
alongside negative perceptions as well - solitude, fear, the unknown. And in St John’s
Gospel where the contrasts between darkness and light are a recurring theme
throughout the gospel, darkness is always represented negatively.
On Wednesday evening we will celebrate the ancient liturgical office of Holy Week
called Tenebrae. Tenebrae is the Latin for darkness or shadows and although it is
essentially the Office of Morning Prayer it is celebrated at night time (following the
monastic practice of anticipating the dawn of a new day by saying morning prayer in the
middle of the night).
It is night time - the darkness - that is the potent visual image for this office. For in the
course of this dramatic liturgy all the candles will be snuffed out and as much electric
light as possible excluded from the church, to recall the darkest moment of our
humanity. Not simply the daily elimination of light which heralds tranquility, quiet and
restfulness - which we know will be followed by a new dawn and a new day. Not simply
the cycle of night following day, but the extinguishing of the Light of the World; the
snuffing out of God himself; as the world - not just night and day - is plunged into that
moral and spiritual darkness from which we may never recover. The lights which
illuminate the church at the beginning of the office which should be welcoming the day
are one by one extinguished, until only one candle is left alight. and that candle is hidden
away, entombed if you like. It is not quite extinguished - but buried, seemingly snuffed
out, defeated, killed. Even God dies, and we are left in the darkness.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you,
because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
One of the most startling things about the Gospel according to St John is its attention to small details. John gives by far the most accurate descriptions of time and place in any of the four canonical accounts of the life and death of Jesus. Much of our speculative chronology for his life is derived from John’s obsession with recording the passing of the Jewish fasts and festivals, and Jesus’ strict observance of them. And he frequently includes in his narrative those close observations which the other three Evangelists are unaware of, or choose to omit.
'Union with Christ, then, belongs to those who have undergone all that the saviour has undergone…he who seeks to be united with him must therefore share with him in his flesh, partake of deification, and share in His death and resurrection.' St Nicholas Kabasilas, The Life in Christ 
It is a well-known fact that Anglo-catholics love parties. Many of us make all sorts of weird and wonderful commitments for Lent, no doubt inspired by sound Tractarian piety, sacrificing those things on which we gorge ourselves when nobody is looking, or indeed when they are, setting aside some of the luxuries of this life, to focus on
‘Jacob said: 'I will not let you go, unless you bless me.'
…then [he] asked him, 'Please tell me your name?'
But [the man] said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?'
And there he blessed him.’
Gen 32.26, 29
The Christian story is unique because it is just that – a story. It is narrative, script, folktale; history, poetry and song, wisdom, apocalyptic visions, and law; it is instruction, admonishment, consolation, letters to friends, memoirs for a distant people…