How did we get here? How do we arrive at this point year after year?
After the year we’ve had, we are thankful to come to this moment at all, overcoming insurrection, persevering in a worldwide pandemic (that is still ongoing), and surviving thus far all the risks and chances we face in life. As people so lucky, mightn’t we rather be celebrating? Rather than come to church when we know the grief we carry and the grief we enter into with the Passion, why would we submit ourselves to such torment and sadness?
We can’t even celebrate that there was a moment in time when the political authorities and the religious leaders agreed on something because the thing they agreed on was killing Jesus. If Jesus died, the rebellion would end with the people subdued. With Jesus dead, the priestly power prevails and the questioning of authority subsides. Everyone can resume cruise control, maintain the status quo, and stay in line . . . or this could happen to you.
We read through the drama and trauma of the Passion wondering, “Why can’t they see that Jesus is innocent?” We call for the release of Barabbas instead and shout with the crowd, “Crucify him!” while thinking that surely we would never be on that side of history.
And yet. Here we are. Again and again we find ourselves here. If we have taken up the challenge to draw near to Jesus, even and especially through the suffering, to the cross, and to his last breath, we are more than a little uncomfortable.
The gift that is Easter awaits us, a safety net for the absence of Jesus that the disciples, friends, and his mother did not have. Can we stand beside and with them in their grief? Can we bear witness to the tragedy, like so many even this week who have to share testimony to watching a man be tortured and killed? Hopeless. Yelling into a void. Recording the moment that will be seared into their memories long after their phone becomes obsolete.
While the balance of what is good and evil teeters in the stillness of a moment, life for some carries on without noticing. Others watch the scales with bated breath or carry on bearing the burdens as they do, wondering, waiting, maybe even daring to hope.
Maybe we find ourselves at the cross more often than we realize, feeling an absence of God, of Truth, of Justice, of Goodness, in the world. Fear and grief and isolation and hatred can make it feel like it is finished, that there is nothing at all in the world to hope for. If Jesus had lived a long life and died naturally, we might have regarded him as a Saint or Prophet–the light and love he shared being contained to his lifetime. But he was killed. He couldn’t breathe. He breathed his last at the hand of his executioner, at the hand of violence, an extension of justice armed with fear and oppression ready to strike again to all who resisted.
As the sun eclipsed and the veil of the Temple ripped apart, God spoke when others couldn’t. Now can we see clearly? The Light of the world was extinguished by the cruelty of humanity that has the incredible gift of free will, even to self-destruct. But the presence of God will not be contained, not in one place, nor in one time.
But sit in the darkness. Don’t look away from shortcomings and failures, doubts and despair. Sit in the stillness and silence with all of who we are. What have we done?
But don’t stop there. What, then, do we do next?
“He who has promised is faithful.” What all have we been promised? What all have we been commanded? Drowning in grief and sorrow, we can’t handle any tests or lists. Like the children we are, we need it spelled out simply, outstretched before us so it is as clear as possible. What is all this about? What is the purpose of everything?
Good Friday is “good” because of Love, God’s love. We come to Good Friday year after year because we forget how to love, how to show love, how to be loved, and we lose our way. Maundy Thursday we’re reminded of the Eucharist and of the command to love one another. Good Friday we’re reminded of our failure to live in obedience to the command to love, and we’re invited to sit in the darkness because there, too, God’s Love prevails.