The twenty-seventh day of Lent

Friday after 4 Lent

Just as every Sunday is a little Easter, every Friday is a little Good Friday. The new life that is celebrated in the light of every Sunday begins in the shadows of Friday when we remember that the Son of God "went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified." Darkness and light are persistent themes throughout the sacred history that is presented to us in the Bible, from the darkness at creation which is broken when God said, "Let there be light," to the darkness at the sixth hour on Good Friday that cannot overcome the Light of the world even as he hangs dying on the Cross. The cosmic struggle between darkness and light is represented again and again in the smaller struggles we read about in the history of God's people and each Friday in Lent we are reflecting on one of those prefiguring events.

Jonah 1:17-2:10

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

"I called to the Lord, out of my distress,
          and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
          and thou didst hear my voice.
Jonah, East Window of Lincoln College Chapel, Oxford University, Abraham van Linge, 1631For thou didst cast me into the deep,
          into the heart of the seas,
          and the flood was round about me;
all thy waves and thy billows
          passed over me.
Then I said, 'I am cast out
          from thy presence;
how shall I again look
          upon thy holy temple?'
The waters closed in over me,
          the deep was round about me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
          at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
          whose bars closed upon me for ever;
yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit,
          O Lord my God.
When my soul fainted within me,
          I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to thee,
          into thy holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
          forsake their true loyalty.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
          will sacrifice to thee;
what I have vowed I will pay.
          Deliverance belongs to the Lord!"

And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah upon the dry land.

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to [Jesus], 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.' He said to them in reply, 'An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.'"  (Matthew 12: 38-40) We have seen how various Old Testament figures have prefigured Jesus in various ways, but Jonah is one of the few to whom Jesus specifically refers when speaking of his own mission. Nevertheless, it is clear that the heroes and prophets of the Old Testament point to Jesus. Jesus is the Word who spoke Creation into being. He did not spring up out of nowhere and without any hint that he was coming. Again and again, God gave his people signs of his purpose for them, a purpose that Jesus perfectly fulfills. But if the signs were always there, they did not always seem self-evident, at least not to a people who had their own ideas about how a Messiah ought to behave. The scribes and the Pharisees were looking for a warrior-king like David or else a wonder-worker like Moses who would confront the powers of darkness and overwhelm them. However, God had a different plan and sent another Jonah, someone who did not confront the darkness but instead allowed himself to be cast into the darkness. It is by this sign, and no other, that we know for sure who he is and that the victory will be his.   

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