Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

Environmental Stewardship: Good Friday – Darkness Coming Over the Land

From noon on, darkness came over the land until three in the afternoon. (Matthew 27:45)

xxEarth hi res medI spent some of the time between noon and three o’clock this afternoon reading and thinking about the darkness that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include in their accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. John’s Gospel account of the Passion, the one we will hear in churches using the Good Friday liturgy from The Book of Common Prayer, doesn’t mention this. But the synoptic Gospels all do, with Matthew and Luke (Luke 23:44-45) adding that the curtain of the temple was torn in two when Jesus was crucified. Matthew adds (Matthew 27:51) that “the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”

Commentaries disagree on the meaning of all of this. Some argue that this was a solar eclipse, while others say it is was a different kind of gloom. As thunderstorms and snowstorms swept across Nebraska on Wednesday, lots of us saw streetlights come in during daylight hours; we know that darkness at noon doesn’t necessarily mean a solar eclipse. Commentators also disagree on whether the Greek should be translated to tell us darkness came over the land or over the entire earth. And then there is discussion about the earthquake mentioned by Matthew: are we to understand that there was the sort of earthquake that today would be recorded by a seismograph, or was this report of a shaking of the earth more a way to describe the meaning of Jesus’s death?

No matter which combination of Gospel accounts and commentaries strike us as the best interpretation of this piece of the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, what stands out is the underlying claim that the crucifixion and death of Jesus was not only experienced in the hearts and emotions of the people who witnessed it, but was also felt or experienced in some way by all of creation. This is an important claim, because if we put any stock at all in the claim of darkness coming over the land (or the earth), we agree that the connection between Jesus and creation is such that the suffering and death of Jesus was echoed in the nonhuman world around him. In this, we affirm that our relationship with Jesus not only can’t be isolated from our relationships with one another, but that our relationship with Jesus can’t be isolated from our relationship with all of creation.

The Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer (p. 848) answers the question “What is sin?” this way:

Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.

Given that, it is difficult to understand why we in the Church don’t pay more attention to what is happening to God’s creation, especially since people who are marginalized by virtue of economic status or race more often than not experience the effects of pollution and climate change first and worst. Environmental degradation is still a side issue for many in the church, and we continue to pray, preach, plan, and act as if we were living in a world unaffected by the great changes happening today.

This Good Friday, this deacon finds it important to share something that got mention in the news this Holy Week but may not make it into the hearts and prayers of many worshipers on Easter Sunday. I share it in the hope that we might be moved to include the changes in the earth’s climates and its effects on us and other living things in our prayers, our conversations, and our moral choices.

A paper published in the European journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics looks at effects of melting ice beyond the effects of sea level rise. Sea level rise itself might happen sooner than earlier predicted because of the sort of feedback loops scientists are studying. The paper claims that beyond the obvious dangers of sea level rise, cold meltwater entering the ocean can lead to changes in the circulation systems such as a possible shutdown of the North Atlantic Ocean circulation. One result of a slowdown or shutdown of this system is an increase in extreme storms.

Here is Dr. James Hansen discussing the main points of the paper:

In the transcript of the video, Dr. Hansen includes this preface:

The main point that I want to make concerns the threat of irreparable harm, which I feel we have not communicated well enough to people who most need to know, the public and policymakers. I’m not sure how we can do that better, but I comment on it at the end of this transcript.

Climate Progress has a piece by Joe Romm that both clarifies the main points of the paper and discusses some of the implications. (See Leading Climate Scientists: ‘We Have A Global Emergency,’ Must Slash CO2 ASAP)

Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake with him while he prayed the night before his crucifixion, but the disciples were unable to keep awake. Can we stay awake and aware in our own time to witness the suffering unfolding around us, or will we sleep unaware through this “threat of irreparable harm”?

— Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett

Follow Archdeacon Betsy’s blog at

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