It is Good Friday. You bow your head in prayer in the utter stillness of the early morning, as the darkness envelops you as a blanket, the flickering of candles the only bulwark from its over-powering presence. On the tomb-like chill of the air floats the faint and lingering fragrance of incense, like the dew that clings to the newly sprouted grass, only to dissipate in the vernal warmth of the sun. For now, all is bleak and silent. As the drowsiness still hangs upon your eyes, space and distance and time and history seem to be suspended on this one moment; this awakening on your part, this drifting into the dream-like world of death for another.
A red dawn, a day for blood.
In the ever-encroaching movement of the Tenebrae, with every luminous demise the feeling cannot be shaken, as if all of our world’s sins and failures are crowding into the room to take their place beside you, or worse, to become you. Death is a cruel master, and here his whips and shackles bind all the tighter.
Soon, all is darkness, all is silence.
Then, as if in a broken vow, a note flashes forth in the brilliance of a thousand suns. As if weightless by nature, these sounds are borne to heaven, having become a surrogate for supplicants who cannot speak what their hearts may plead to express. In another breath all light will flee away, but in this dying gasp lips form a kiss to become a prayer, and await the dawn.
As I listen to Miserere Mei, I imagine standing in a chapel in the early morning at matins (3am) on Good Friday morning. Miserere Mei, by Gregorio Allegri, was composed for use during the Tenebrae service, which involved the gradual extinguishing of lights. In my mind I envision the feeling of remembering Jesus’ death for my sins, as the chill of winter is gradually giving way to spring. To hear Miserere Mei (Have Mercy on Me) in the stillness of that moment would be nothing short of incredible. Sometimes music can express what can only be felt or desired, and Miserere Mei is certainly one of those songs. In Psalm 51 is the tension that Good Friday represents- the overwhelming guilt and contrition for sin, the realization of our failures and the depth of our sinfulness, but also the inexpressible yet nevertheless tangible hope and confidence in God’s mercy.
Repentance brings us back to God partially because it brings us back to our senses- it forces us to be honest with ourselves. In our pride and obstinancy to justify our actions we usually only end up fooling ourselves; repentance sets us right with ourselves and with God, and we are finally able to live without the pretensions and self-deceptions that only end up entangling us. Repentance cannot help but bring about God’s mercy, because God has already been merciful towards us.
When your back is turned on someone, you can imagine all kinds of evils about them and their intentions towards you, especially when you are making pains to believe yourself to be right. But when you turn around and look them in the face, the illusions fly away and only truth stands between you. The truth is that God’s intentions towards us are always good and merciful- we really just need to turn around and look God in the face. After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God, and we have all been hiding ever since.
It’s time to turn around.