A. J. Swoboda wrote A Glorious Dark about three days. The Friday we call good when Jesus died on the cross, Sunday when Jesus surprised everyone by refusing to be dead and the Saturday in between ( ‘awkward Saturday’)–a day of silence when defeat appears complete and we are full of doubt and questions. The fancy-shmancy word for these days is Triduum,the last three days of Holy Week. Many denominations and spiritualities major in one of these three days. Friday people enter into suffering and loss. Saturday people allow space for doubt, questions and deconstruction. Sunday people are the clappy,happy people who emphasize blessing. Swoboda sees a problem when Christians treating any one day as though it is the total Christian vision and experience, “We need both Friday and Sunday, not just one or the other. Some want to suffer with Jesus; others want to be resurrected with Jesus. Few Desire both. We can’t prefer one day and reject the rest” (5).
So instead Swoboda takes these three days, the last three days of Holy Week, and treats them as a comprehensive vision (though not exhaustive) of Christian spirituality. The book’s fifteen chapters are organized under the broad headings of the days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), each giving a ‘glimpse of that day.’ On Friday, we reflect on Christ’s cross and in it see both God’s great love for us, and our own need with greater clarity. The cross confronts our sinfulness, our personal need for a Father, our addictions and apathy. In its place we see God’s lavish love and welcome. We also see Jesus so identify with the struggles of humanity that for the briefest of moments on the cross, he looks like an atheist. Awkward Saturday is a day of silence and rest and questioning. It is a day for ‘sitting, waiting and hoping.’ On that day what Jesus built on earth and what we’ve done ourselves for God, seems very insignificant. There are reasons to question everything. Yet the questions and doubts are part of the waiting, so in the tomb we wait.Sunday is a day of surprises The same Jesus who came born of a sixteen-year-old Virgin, shocked everyone by coming out the tomb. Through Jesus’ resurrection over the grave he secured for us the victory over every power and strong hold that held us captive and He invites us to share in his life, becoming part of his resurrection community.
Swoboda weaves his theological reflections with personal narrative, pop-cultural references, and stories from his church. He is a pastor of an urban church in Portland and talks about his vocation and context throughout. He is also funny, bookish and insightful. I enjoyed these reflections and think they are appropriate not only for Holy Week (which is when I read this book), but throughout the Christian year. We are Easter people and the truths that Swoboda explores are constantly relevant. While this book is organized around the three-day-theme, it is also more like a conversation than a tightly written treatise. The conversational tone makes it an engaging read but it also occasional made me impatient for ‘the point’ of a chapter (or kept me wondering how it related to the overall theme). But I’m not sure I’d like a pared down version of this. Swoboda is engaging (it makes me want to pull his previous book, Messy, off my shelf and actually read it). I give this book 4.5 stars.
Notice of material connection: I revieved this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.