Lately, I’ve been able to do a French Bible study with someone who speaks French, and it has allowed me to study scripture in a new way. We’ve begun working slowly through the book of John, and even though I know the passage very well in English, reading it in French is like reading the text for the first time. Going slowly is especially important not only because of my own gaps in knowledge, but because French words carry different meanings than English. I am forced to really consider what the words are saying rather than skimming what I already know or what I think I know.
Recently, I’ve been especially struck by “La lumière luit dans les ténèbres” from the first part of John 1:5. It translates to "The light shines in the darkness." The thing that struck me immediately is that the word for light is singular but darkness is plural, in fact, this word only exists as a plural, as if there are always many areas of darkness. However, the Word, Jesus, conquerors all of them. It’s not just one thing being overcome, but all the shapes darkness takes have been overcome. No matter what shape the shadows in our lives take, they are nothing to the light which brings life to everyone.
A quick search of the etymology of the word shows that it comes from the Latin, tenebrae, the word for darkness and has a secondary meaning of obscurity which conveys a sense of darkness being what is unknown and incomprehensible. The opposite of obscurity is clarity which is what the light of the word provides. The light which is Christ is knowable, and the Word of God is the light unto our path. Not only does light dispense the darkness and the unknown, but it reveals the way and provides knowledge in place of ambiguity.
Tenebrae is also the name of the service held before Easter. It’s actually one of my favorite services not because it’s fun or lighthearted at all, but because I feel like it can convey some of the depth of what Christ did on the cross as no other service does. During tenebrae, we are plunged into darkness and feel the separation and despair of what the world would be without the resurrection. I think it is vital to recognize tenebrae because it shows the absolute need for Easter.