This darkest day of the church year is fraught with harsh paradoxes: the crowds that hailed Christ as king mere days ago now cry for his crucifixion; the only perfect Man is condemned as a criminal; the sins of the all the world’s time and space are expiated at the point of a cross in the hours of a death; the eternal God perishes; and this Friday of deepest tragedy is yet called “good.” But T.S. Eliot contemplates another paradox in his poetic meditation on Good Friday from The Four Quartets: the mystery of our healing at the hands of a wounded Savior.
Along with the treasuries of church liturgies, sacred music, special meals, and supremely, Scripture’s Passion narratives, poetry can aid the remembrance and contemplation we seek during the high days of Holy Week. This will be the first of several poem postings offered as Holy Week meditations, each including a brief guide to the poem before presenting the poem in full.
It is Passover, and Jesus of Nazareth is dead. His body is naked and mangled, and quiet in death after the throes and moans of Friday’s tortured hours. Those gathered around the cross weep. How can we endure a dead God? How can it be that he is good, yet he is dead; that he rescued sufferers, yet suffered more than any; that he performed miracles; yet not on his own behalf? His followers are desolate, but I weep for another reason, for I know I would have been in the mob that called for his crucifixion because he was not the Messiah for whom I had asked.
Chiaroscuro is a term from art that means “light-dark”—a technique of using strong tonal contrasts to represent forms in painting. Think about Rembrandt’s works and his use of distinctive areas of darkness and radiant light. The light appears all the brighter because of its juxtaposition with darkness.
Yesterday, the Church celebrated Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and the beginning of Holy Week – the final days of Christ on earth before His crucifixion. The event is recorded in all four Gospels – Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:29-38, and John 12:12-15 – and the event shares connections and echoes with several other passages as well.
Here is the Triumphal Entry as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel: