Last Friday, as I’m sure you will all remember, we experienced a partial solar eclipse. As it turned out it was a bit of a disappointment really – or at least is was from where I tried to watch it – with the clouds appearing at just the wrong time. It didn’t even go that dark, unlike the eclipse in 1999 which was far more memorable.
Solar eclipses have been around, well, for as long as the sun, moon and stars I guess, and thousands of generations of people have witnessed such events. In ancient times people were quite frightened by them and you can understand why. They didn’t know that the earth orbited the sun and the moon the earth so had no idea really what was happening. After all, if it suddenly and without warning went dark in the middle of the day you might be forgiven for thinking that the sun had gone out and the world was coming to an end. You might even think that this was because your god or gods were unhappy about something and that you were being punished in some way.
In three of the gospel accounts of the crucifixion we are told that the earth went very dark at the moment when Jesus dies. In fact one reading of Luke’s gospel even says that the sun was eclipsed. Astronomers and historians have used this information, unsuccessfully I might add, to try and establish the exact date of Good Friday, bearing in mind that with our knowledge of the movement of the planets we can accurately work out when these celestial alignments will have taken place.
The Gospel writers were remembering something though, so it is quite likely that an eclipse might have taken place around the same time and this was linked in the Gospels to Jesus’ death. The symbolism of light and darkness and the contrast between the two are found in many places in the Bible and are equally applied to the life of Christ. In John Chapter 8 Jesus says of himself ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’
So then it is hardly surprising that at the point at which Jesus dies we are told that the world becomes dark – that even the sun refuses to shine. This is God’s disapproval of what humanity has done to his only Son. The ‘light of the world’ has been extinguished and people are left wondering whether hope is lost and the darkness really has won.
As we enter Holy Week – and are remembering Jesus as he approaches his final hour – reliving his pain and agony, his betrayal and rejection – we are seeing how the light of the world seems to flicker and fade as the cross looms large on the horizon.
But as with a solar eclipse where we know that the sun will shine once more, we also know that death does not have the last word and that Jesus will rise again. We know that the light of the world does still shine, that the darkness has been overcome and hope restored. That is what we celebrate at Easter – CHRIST IS ALIVE, ALLELUIA!
May I wish you all a very Happy Easter!