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Dark night of the soul and the kiss of grace


Christ was alone. It was midnight as he lay awake in a cell in the bowels of Roman Army headquarters in Jerusalem. Fifteen hours later, he would hang on a cross, dead. He knew this as he contemplated the next day. His life would end painfully, brutally, abandoned.

These were the final hours he had known about from childhood. Now, however, it was much more than an intellectual understanding, a learnt knowledge. Scourging his every thought, the Holy Scriptures became his death sentence: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering … He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (see Isaiah 53:1-11). He knew within his whole being, perhaps with more certainty than ever, that this was his destiny – and he faced a long, dark night of the soul.

You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the emotional bleeding in Jesus’ thoughts. I ask myself what most played on Christ’s mind that night. Was it fear of death? Was it humiliation? Was it the anticipation of physical pain – the nails being driven through his hands, the whipping he would receive? Was it anger, as he considered his innocence and the irony of God being murdered by a treacherous, shallow, two-faced humanity?

Traces of all these emotions may have found their way into Jesus’ mind in those chilling hours. But Jesus’ primary source of pain that night was sorrow. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he had confided to Peter, James and John before being arrested in the still of night in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus’ sorrow

I have stopped more than once to think about this phrase Jesus used: “Sorrow to the point of death.” This was intense, unbearable inner pain and abandonment at its core. “My God, my God,” he cried out on the cross while dying, “why have you forsaken me?”

Some say this was complete aloneness. But it was more than that. It is one thing suddenly to be alone. It is another to be abandoned.

I believe the magnitude of Jesus’ sorrow was because of who he was. This was divine sorrow melded with human sorrow. In the garden and then on the cross, Jesus experienced the extreme juxtaposition of being both human and divine. Heavenly and earthly grief overtook him.

“No one’s inner pain is insignificant.”

When I think of this, I’m also tempted to think that the sorrow and grief I have experienced in my life are insignificant. But they are not. No one’s inner pain is insignificant. I have known abandonment in my life, and it took a long time for me to awaken to its impact upon me, including my outlook on life.

As I look around me now, I can see this sorrow in the lives of others: in the seeming hopelessness of people who live on the street, in the fear in victims of chronic domestic violence, in the betrayal of a person whose partner has been unfaithful, in the grief of the family that has suffered the sudden loss of a loved one.

Sometimes I see it just by looking into their faces. Their eyes tell of sorrow and, often, of abandonment. Sometimes we need to talk to people. Gradually they open up – especially if we’re open with them. And they share their stories of sorrow.

It helps to talk. Jesus knew this, which is why most of his time was spent mingling with the crowds. But as anyone who has identified sorrow as a barrier to emotional health and growth in their life can tell you, it takes more than talking to work it through.

Just where does the answer to overcoming sorrow and abandonment lie? Some say you’ve got to learn to live with it. That’s true to a degree. Our humanity attests to this. Once abandoned, it’s easy to feel abandoned again, even if you’re not. It’s a sensitive thing. Abandonment strikes a very deep chord, one with heavy vibrato written all over it.

The kiss of grace

But I have found that healing from sorrow and abandonment is available, and it comes through a very intimate encounter, you might say “a meeting in the garden”, with the Christ. That night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus gave humankind a beautiful and most precious gift. If ever there was a healing kiss for our sorrow, a long kiss goodnight, this was it.

“I have come to embrace Jesus’ kiss of grace, to allow its regeneration of my life.”

Despite his agony and pleading with God to avoid the cross, Jesus’ gift to us, his kiss of grace and mercy, was: “Not what I will, but what you will.” How different to Judas’s kiss of betrayal that followed almost immediately!

I have come to embrace Jesus’ kiss of grace to allow the regeneration of my life. I have travelled with him to the cross and nailed my sorrow and abandonment there. I have risen with Jesus a new person, still with human frailty, but with the power of grace healing me and helping me feel with the goodness of God again. Jesus’ promise of “life in all its fullness” has come to me, leading me beyond sorrow and restoring the inner contentment of my soul. More than that, again and again, God’s Spirit shows me my destiny, God’s plan for my life, and I feel I have no choice but to respond: “What you will.”

What do we say to this great love of Jesus for our souls? What do we say to this beautiful nurturer of our spirit? Perhaps the words of songwriter Stuart Townend can best say it for us: “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.”


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