Alleluiah! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluiah!
How long we have been waiting to say those words. We have literally been in quarantine
for the last six weeks. That after all is what forty days and forty night are - quarantine!.
For this period of time Alleluiah has been struck from our vocabulary. In the Middle
Ages the Sarum Use liturgy instructed that a chorister should be whipped out of the
cathedral on Ash Wednesday to symbolise the Alleluiah being whipped out of the
liturgy. There were times when I was Precentor of Salisbury when I thought seriously
about reintroducing that ancient tradition.
This is where life begins;
this is where the church begins;
this is where you and I and the world around us begins again.
Here in the darkness (you must close your eyes and imagine the
darkness!) - in the darkness, the emptiness and the silence -
before any candle was lit we gathered together. We had nothing, -
all our success, our status, our prestige, our respect and position
in the community, have been stripped away. Like the Lord we saw
crucified yesterday we stand naked. Ecce Homo : Behold the Man
said Pontius Pilate, as he presented the Christ to the multitude.
Homo in Latin but Adam in Hebrew - Behold Man. Here we
behold ourselves - humankind - stripped of our pretension -
revealed as we truly are.
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.