Friday, April 22, 2011

Some Reflections on Good Friday

I have decided to use the blog a little differently this week. There are a couple of reasons for this: first, it seems a little strange to me to blog on Resurrection texts in the days that mark Jesus' death, days when an outcome of resurrection was far from certain. Second, since we are not "officially" gathering as a faith community on Good Friday (though I hope those of you who are able will join us for the Community Crosswalk beginning at Noon at Broadneck, rain or shine), I thought that it could be useful to reflect on the story and meaning of this day instead of moving to our Sunday Sermon Scriptures (which I hope you will still read ahead of time here--we'll be using the Matthew Gospel text, the Jeremiah reading and the Acts reading). So here are some reflections for your Good Friday:

Last year, I spent Good Friday in France, believe it or not. While visiting family in Germany, I took the train across the border to spend the day in the picturesque village of Strasbourg. After visiting a Catholic cathedral with powerful depictions of the crucifixion and a Lutheran church that dated back to the days of...well...Luther, I sort of accidentally stumbled into a Good Friday service taking place in a Protestant church not far from the center of town. I crept into the back and took my place in a pew, hoping I could be a worshipper and not a tourist. One of the congregants handed me a bulletin, and I graciously accepted it as I settled in to listen.

Now, I took French in high school, but that was a loooong time ago. Hence, most of the words of songs and prayers in this service were lost on me. But as various people got up to read the words of the Passion story from Matthew's gospel...I found that I recognized every word. Even when I didn't know the exact meaning of the language, I understood the exact meaning of their message--the agony, abandonment, hopelessness, and derision portrayed in every syllable. It was one of the most powerful experiences of hearing the Good Friday narrative I've ever had, and rather than continuing my village wanderings I sat in that chapel for a long time afterwards reflecting on it.

Hearing the story in a language foreign to me and yet recognizing every word of it made me wonder--is such deep comprehension part of what makes this story of Jesus' death so powerful? A demonstration of love unto death is something that can be understood across time, across cultures. Suffering is something with which anyone who has lived more than a few years, no matter their background, is well acquainted. Is this why we keep crosses in our sanctuaries and hang them around our necks even though they are gruesome instruments of death--because somehow, in that sharing in Jesus' suffering and reminder of it, we are brought closer to Jesus than at any other time? That this is God's love made visible in a way that we cannot understand, yet at the same time understand deeply as people who, too, have suffered?

I also have often wondered, if Easter is the central event of the Christian faith, why we don't put empty tombs in our churches or on our jewelry. I wonder if this is because death is something far more tangible for us, more comprehensible, than the tremendous mystery that is resurrection. We've all known suffering; but we have not all known resurrection. Most of us, in spite of the fact that we now live in what Walter Brueggeman called an "Eastered World", live in places that look more like Friday or Saturday than Sunday: places marked with disappointment, with brokenness, with suffering. I think this was true even for the early church: after all, the Gospel writers devoted dozens of verses to Jesus' death but struggled to come up with more than a few words to describe the resurrection. How can such a mystery that none of use have yet experienced be named? There were many witnesses to the crucifixion...but no one, as best as we can tell, saw Jesus rising with their own eyes. A select few saw him post-resurrection, but the rest of us were left to depend on the fearful and joyful witness of those few to this unknown.

I am not sure where all these somewhat rambling wonderings lead...but perhaps this is what Easter faith is, at its heart: living into the mystery of God with the full spectrum of our wonder. In this day, however, I continue to ask: what does it mean to have as the core, universal symbol of our faith a story of intense suffering? As we gaze upon a day of pain that cuts to our souls, how might we begin to imagine an Easter morning that points beyond any adequate description? How might we learn to see and receive the sudden, surprising and never-before-seen gift of incomprehensible life beyond our visible and all-too-real knowledge of death?

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

I think you've hit on something there, Abby. Resurrection - whether symbolic, metaphorical, or physical - is something largely outside of our experience. Sure, we hear about someone "resurrecting" their career/reputation/etc, but I think our usage is hyperbolic at best and probably self-serving.

As you so eloquently put it, everyone "knows" suffering. Everyone "knows" death - even as we try to distance ourselves in every way from it. (Or, rather, thinks they know/understand it - I might challenge you on that front) At the very least, we can point to it say, "There, look!"

But this is much like a child who points to every type of truck and says "Truck!" Does he/she "know" the truck? Its purpose? Its differences between other trucks? How to operate/navigate a truck?

Of course not. And while as adults we go a little beyond that point, I wonder how far we allow ourselves to go - and how often we don't go far enough to allow real touch and real change.

But back to you point: How can we begin to engage with and represent an empty tomb, with all our well-worn skepticism and prized critical-thinking? We don't know what do with that empty tomb NOR with the resurrected Christ who tries to sooth our fears as he pulls the disciples (and us) back together. I remember a sermon Stephen gave on Easter two years back, calling on us to rise up and live as Resurrection people. Social justice issues, forgiveness, love of the neighbor AND enemy...but what does that mean here? How does that help us relate to the resurrection of Jesus, the one that taught us the depths of God's love?