Sometimes a line in a song cuts straight to the heart. I feel it with the National Anthem (and the rockets’ red glare…), The Celtic Farewell (may holy angels be there at your welcoming, and all the saints who go before you there), and Were You There? For me it’s verse 4, “were you there when the sun refused to shine?” What event could be so profoundly tragic that the earth itself, even the sun, would go into mourning? Only the death of God, its beloved Creator.
According to the gospel of Palm Sunday, Luke 22:14-23:56, “It was about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus…breathed his last.”(NAB)
Both the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the pagan Roman historian Tacitus confirm the crucifixion of Jesus in their writings, but historians disagree about the truth of the other phenomena during and after Jesus’ death. Several apocryphal gospels agree with the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), attesting to the eclipse, earthquakes and the resurrection and appearance of dead saints in Jerusalem. Dionysius the Areopagite, witnessing the eclipse from Heliopolis writes, “Either the Creator of all the world now suffers, or this visible world is coming to an end.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_eclipse. Historian Sextus Julius Africanus denies the possibility of an eclipse at Passover, which is held during the full moon, because a solar eclipse can only happen during a new moon. Though he goes on to quote the records of Phlegon, chronicalling a solar eclipse at full moon during the reign of Tiberius. Eusebius also quotes Phlegon connecting an earthquake with the same eclipse. Tertullian and Lucian of Antioch both imply that evidence of this darkness still existed in Roman records during their time.
Paulus Orosius, historian and student of St. Augustine of Hippo, writes in his “The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans”, ” that Jesus “voluntarily gave himself over to the Passion but through the impiety of the Jews, was apprehended and nailed to the cross, as a very great earthquake took place throughout the world, rocks upon mountains were split, and a great many parts of the largest cities fell by this extraordinary violence. On the same day also, at the sixth hour of the day, the Sun was entirely obscured and a loathsome night suddenly overshadowed the land, as it was said, ‘an impious age feared eternal night.’ Moreover, it was quite clear that neither the Moon nor the clouds stood in the way of the light of the Sun, so that it is reported that on that day the Moon, being fourteen days old, with the entire region of the heavens thrown in between, was farthest from the sight of the Sun, and the stars throughout the entire sky shone, then in the hours of the day or rather in that terrible night. To this, not only the authority of the Holy Gospels attest, but even some books of the Greeks.”
So what do all these interesting writings have to do with faith? Just that I find it utterly sad, when meditating on the Crucifixion, that even creation mourned the death of Christ.
Were you there?