Scripture discloses that Jesus was crucified around 9:00 a.m. and that he remained on the cross for six hours. At noon, when the sun would have been shining down at full strength, the land was covered by darkness for three hours. The secular historian Thallus chronicled the episode in AD 52, helping the modern reader to realize that the darkness written of was not symbolic or metaphorical.
The darkness at the crucifixion should have pricked the conscious of those who were in Jerusalem that day. It was under the cover of darkness that the first Passover was observed the night prior to the departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. As they observed the Passover, the angel of death stormed the land taking the life of every first born living creature who was not under the protective shield of the blood of the Passover lamb.
The prophet Amos foreshadowed the event as well in the following verses:
“And in that day—this is the declaration of the Lord God—
I will make the sun go down at noon;
I will darken the land in the daytime.
I will turn your feasts into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will cause everyone to wear sackcloth
and every head to be shaved.
I will make that grief like the mourning for an only son
and its outcome like a bitter day.” (Amos 8:9-10, HCSB)
While I belive that the reader should take the referenced darkness in Matthew’s gospel to be literal, this darkness certainly carries symbolic meaning. It speaks of the feeling one experiences when feeling abandoned, forsaken, and alone.
I attended college in Hannibal, Missouri. Hannibal is best known for the writings of Mark Twain. Most of my peers, I suspect, at some point bumped up against Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as a part of required reading for Language Arts. If you go to Hannibal, Missouri, you can tour the Mark Twain Cave. As a part of that tour the guide highlights points of interest such as Tom and Becky’s post office and Injun Joe’s hideout. As a bonus, the tour guide turns out the light which allows tourists to experience absolute darkness. Absolute darkness can be felt…a darkness so thick that a person can quickly become disoriented and lose perspective.
Darkness is an appropriate way to describe the feeling of being forsaken by God. It was St. John of the Cross, who after battling depression and discouragement who coined the phrase, “the dark night of the soul.” At noon it did become dark, but in more ways than one. Maybe you sense that today as well.