Law and Promise
Open Your Bible
Galatians 3:10-18, Genesis 12:1-7, Isaiah 53:1-12, 1 Peter 2:24-25
On Wednesday evening of this last Holy Week, I attended the Tenebrae service through a local Anglican church. Held at the Belcourt Theater, this service draws its name from the latin word for “darkness” and is intended to capture the depth of sin and brokenness—without resolution.
On the stage, there was a tier with twelve candles. Traditionally, one candle at a time is snuffed out until the room is completely dark, encouraging people to leave the room in silence. The purpose is to sit with the sorrow of Christ’s death longer than we feel comfortable with so that the triumph of Resurrection Sunday is all the more joyous.
I was nervous to attend. Friends described it as being a pretty visceral experience, and since I already have a personality that’s sharply attuned to darkness and suffering, I wasn’t sure it was the best idea. But the event was meant to commemorate the fact that Christ had been crucified to break the curse of sin and death. The very least I could do was sit in an old theater seat.
In the dark rows, candlelight flickering, we watched the opening piece: the music video to Johnny Cash’s song, “Hurt.” I couldn’t help but see the connection between that haunting lyric and Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane:
“What have I become,
my sweetest friend?
Everyone I know goes away in the end”
In Galatians, Paul says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13). Although God set the law in motion, it could never save us. It always pointed to the cross. Because the law leads to death, only death could satisfy sin and lead to eternal life.
The heaviness of what I felt during this Tenebrae service was just a sliver of what Christ felt on the cross. He carried the weight of the whole world’s suffering on his shoulders. Can you imagine? Yet, somehow, “for the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross” (Heb 12:2).
Over the course of the evening, I could feel my breaths grow shallow and staccato-like. My friends were right. It was hard to sit through. More than once, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, hoping to ground my body, while at the same time hold close the story of my Lord’s suffering. Thinking about Christ being made a curse for our sake makes me shudder because there was such a cost to fulfill the demands of the law—a cost so great that the earth grew dark from the sixth to the ninth hour (Mt 27:45).
But the shocking beauty of the gospel is that this “great reversal” transforms Christ’s persecution into our blessing. The law is fulfilled and replaced with a promise, and we never need to fear the darkness again. The curse has been lifted. It is finished.