The honeysuckle on my neighbor’s fence was blooming. I was standing in the alley behind my house, slightly up the bank to my neighbor’s fence, sampling and enjoying the honeysuckle blossoms. In my memory, I am alone — a rare thing because my baby boomer neighborhood teemed with children. I went to Catholic school and was off because it was Good Friday. It was a mild, sunny, spring day.
Something occurred to me and I looked at the watch I’d gotten when I made my first communion a year or so before. I checked the time and then looked at the sky. Good Friday commemorates the day that Jesus was crucified and died for our sins. In school, they had told us that He died at about 3 pm. At that time, on Good Friday, they said, the sky would darken with clouds and would remain so for a short while in sympathy with the death of our Savior.
I looked at my watch again. It was 3 pm. I looked at the sky. The sun was shining brightly with fluffy, occasional clouds against the bright blue sky. Well, they said at about 3 pm. The scent of the honeysuckle wafted on the breeze and I tore off and sucked another blossom — wondering if it would be a sin to be enjoying sweet nectar at the moment that Jesus had died. Sacrilegiously, the sky continued its beautiful, brightness all afternoon never darkening in the least until after dinner when it always did.
I considered some rationalizations. After all, Jesus hadn’t been crucified in Towson, Maryland, so 3 pm here at home wouldn’t correspond with 3 pm in Golgotha. Perhaps my teachers didn’t understand time differences. Perhaps, when the Julian calendar was adopted, the real Good Friday had shifted? No, because Good Friday and Easter were on different dates each year — I wondered why that was so.
I was a committed Catholic back then. Children raised in religious households believe fervently and completely when they are young — particularly, if that religion is reinforced with instruction from nuns and priests at school. I was deeply disappointed that the sky never darkened. It was as though I’d gone outside to watch an eclipse and it never happened. It seemed wrong and, although it didn’t shake my faith, it was rather profoundly disturbing.
Reflecting on this, I wonder why Father or Sister told the story in the way they did. The idea of the sky darkening at the moment of Jesus’ death is dramatic high theatre — and, I suppose, that was the point. But, didn’t they consider kids like me who’d be looking for the miracle, a corroboration that could only occur haphazardly at best? I wonder about the other stories and drama used to instruct us as we grew up. Fanciful stories about math or science yield to the notion of metaphor in time with no subsequent dilution of the idea of truth. Such dramatic devices in religious instruction, though, need to be carefully considered and skillfully rendered. As I said, the sky’s failure to darken that Good Friday didn’t affect my faith directly but it may have been a contributing factor to my eventual disbelief.
So, I think that the reason that I was told that the sky would fill and darken with clouds was that the teacher was talking to the rapt eyes in front of him or her, emphasizing the solemnity of the event, teaching in the moment. Perhaps they gave no thought at all to a little boy, on a spring afternoon, in front of a fragrant honeysuckle vine, alone with his thoughts.