Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

This is the first time in my life that I have tried (as a priest friend put it) to "walk with Jesus all the way through Holy Week." From the "hosannas" of last Sunday, day by day, through last night's remembrance of his last meal with the disciples, and now -- tonight -- the recollection of his hideous death.

I sat and stood and knelt tonight in my parish, stripped of all its lovely signs of hope and life. No candles. No beautiful vestments and paraments with all their symbols of life. No glorious gleaming cross -- just the rough wooden one. No beautifully draped altar decked out and draped as a table for feasting; instead, just the naked altar that reminds us an altar was initially a place for slaughtering animals.

In her sermon tonight, our priest made an observation that never occurred to me before: Jesus had no funeral. Instead, this Good Friday liturgy is his memorial service, and she proceeded to deliver his eulogy. Just the way we've all heard priests give funeral sermons over the years. She remembered his life, his loving ways, his forceful ways, and finally his betrayal and unjust, agonizing death.

Our prayer book liturgy allows us -- and our priest tonight allowed us -- simply to dwell with that miserable death. Not so much as a mention of an empty tomb or a glorious Sunday. Tonight we were allowed to realize how much -- how very much -- was lost when human beings murdered God in human flesh. How desolate the disciples and all Jesus' followers must have felt. The man they loved was dead. The man who could make the blind see, could bring Lazarus back to life, who knew and loved their inmost souls, who seemed to promise the reign of God was here and now . . . had died a humiliating death, taunted and ridiculed without lifting a finger to save himself.

Again tonight, but perhaps more deeply, I was struck by musings similar to last night's: God did this because God so desperately loved (and still loves) us. Somewhere this week [and I really wish I could remember where!], I read that God had tried throughout history to redeem humanity so that we could reach union with God -- through covenants, sacrifices, offerings. And we never did get it right. We never could reach God. So God came to earth and became one of us. Entered fully and completely into human life. Because God truly loves and adores the humans that God had created. Thus, I can never again feel like God just "doesn't get it" when I am hurting in body or mind or soul. God "gets it" because God went through it -- every bit of it.
This is how it feels.

So when I feel that all my dreams and hopes have been smashed to pieces and even the pieces mock my hopes . . . I can know that God understands fully, because God lived it . . . all the way to the cross and death.

It does feel like I attended a funeral tonight. Even now, a couple of hours later, I find tears streaming from time to time. Somehow -- for reasons I do not understand -- my discipline to "walk this week with Jesus" has made a difference. I think it's o.k. to weep for what happened on that long-ago Friday in Jerusalem. For the first time, it seems I have truly taken it in. I'm reminded of that marvelous hymn, "What Wondrous Love Is This," and now I get it.

I get it.

And . . . stepping back now . . . to be a bit more analytical about it . . .

I think one reason this Holy Week has "worked" on me this way is that none of the liturgy this week has dangled Easter Sunday in front of us. None of that talk of the passion with a knowing "wink-wink-nod-nod" assurance that Easter is just around the corner. I have been allowed to fully embrace the gravity and grief of what happened, and the finality that every person in that drama must have felt. I have been allowed, even encouraged, to experience what a profound tragedy occured those two millenia ago.

Yes, living in 2007, I do know how the story unfolded three days later. But -- thank God! -- our liturgy allows us to move in sacred time, in a kind of poetry or theater, where we really can feel that "we were there." The liturgy allows us the paradox both to know and not-know what is coming next. What a gift.

So . . . I was struck today by Barbara Crafton's daily meditation from The Geranium Farm. No doubt, many of you are familiar with her work. Today's "Emo" is vintage Crafton: rooted in daily reality, and rising to amazing heights. So I end with her words, which are so much more eloquent (and spare!) than my verbose and meandering ones.

(Barbara Crafton)

If one is naturally high-spirited and knows how the story ends, it can be hard to maintain the sadness proper to the day. The shopping for Easter dinner still needs to be done, after all, and tomorrow will be a day of baking, egg-dyeing and table-setting for the feast. If you are built to enjoy that sort of thing, you itch to begin.

There are a hundred tasks in which to lose oneself: the washing of dishes, the chopping of vegetables, the making of beds, the feeding of animals. Throughout human history it has been so: into each life, tragedy will come, but the cow must still be milked every day. Upon such mundane hooks we hang the sorrows of our lives. The very plainness of them provides a peculiar comfort.

But it is an intermittent one. The immensity of your sorrow intrudes on your ordinariness, again and again: you suspend an egg above the bright surface of the dye and think of it, stop stirring for a moment and stare into the middle distance, thinking of it. You stoop to dust a bottom shelf and remain kneeling there, thinking of it, blinded by your tears. You plunge into ordinary things, and in their matter-of-fact way they receive you. But they cannot conceal your changed world for very long.

The horrified friends of the slain found each other in the crowd and stumbled home -- which was not really home, only a rented room above someone else's house. Mostly they did not speak. Someone put a plate of food in front of them and they picked at it. They went to bed as soon as they could, seeking the oblivion of sleep. It came in fits and starts, scraps of dreams and then horrid awakenings, to a nightmare that was real.

Those who had lost people before knew that the horror doesn't last forever. You get better in time. This they knew. But they also knew that it was too soon for that knowledge to be of any comfort at all. This would be like all the other losses, they knew: permanent.

We leave them in the upper room, shocked and sick at heart. They do not know how the story ends, because it hasn't ended, not for them. We are the ones who know. Back through centuries we send them love and try to send them hope: Dear grandfathers, look up! Your sorrow is almost over. The feast is at hand. It is coming to you soon!


Blogger Catherine + said...

A joyous and blessed Easter to you, Lisa! May you and your family know the joy of this day! He is risen! Indeed! Alleluia!

4/08/2007 12:28 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Some of your best writing, my dear. Really, really good stuff.

4/10/2007 10:16 PM  

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