This year I elected to go to a Good Friday service because this year I am struggling with the faith thing, with the Christian thing, with the God thing. I thought that maybe going to a service intended to bring everybody to the verge of depression would fit me better than the Sunday mornings I’ve struggled to connect with for a while. I’m not sure exactly what I wanted to find there, but something in me pulled me to that service. This is my tribe, this is where I come from. In my searching for answers to all the Whys and the WTFs I keep finding that I can only start looking where I am.
Good Friday service, despite the name, is a purposefully sad event in our tradition. It is supposed to remind us that Jesus Christ died a gruesome, bloody, painful death so that we will better appreciate Easter Sunday’s message of his resurrection.
I took my banged up heart down to the building where I’ve helped lead worship and shared testimony of a God-so-Great, where I’ve cried in gratitude for grace, met people I now consider family, where I’ve looked stupid and been loved, where I’ve disagreed in meetings and questioned methods and tried to figure out how to do the Church thing, where I’ve wondered if I can still buy in, if this makes any sense anymore. I took it down there open and unassuming – some of me expected nothing and some of me expected to be relieved of the darkness seeming to take over parts I wasn’t willing to give up. Maybe I would get my faith back.
I walked in and joined other believers and doubters, other seekers. We settled into chairs with minimal greeting, sobered by the dim lights and soft music and black covered table at the focal point. The service was hosted by another congregation which shares our building so faces were familiar, but mostly unknown.
A man stood at the front and explained the purpose for the gathering. He said that to Christians, Good Friday is the darkest day in history and that to reflect this we would be turning out lights as the service proceeded. The speaker said, “Tonight we are going to be brave and face the darkness.” Together.
If Jesus is to be believed, his death marked more than one man’s passing. It represented all of it – all the parts of being human that hurt, the parts that scare us, the parts we wish we didn’t have to endure. At the pinnacle: our own death and the death of those we love. Jesus died because we all die. And we all suffer before we die. Among the beauty of being alive is woven disease and fear, abuse and shame, loss and longing – we are hurting here. We gather round babies fresh into the world, dripping with potential, and we feel more aware than we knew we could. Then we take a few steps and we gather round the dying, too tired to move, and we ache so deep we can’t see in front of us.
Usually, we enjoy sharing how beautiful our lives are – because it’s true and sometimes we believe it. But it’s only part of our story. Death looms and haunts us. It closes in and we see it ever more in our peripheral as we age. Usually Light is easy to enjoy, but Darkness threatens and we don’t often volunteer to go there. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll never see the sun again when the stars come.
Trying to have answers? Trying to find meaning and hope? Those aren’t Christian things, those are human things. Civilizations as far back as we can find them came up with ideas about the Dark – we suffer and die because there are gods running the show and they are capricious, or because we don’t deserve to live, or because the balance of the universe depends on it. Believing there is some control – even if it’s malicious or not in our favor or ambivalent to us – is preferred to believing that this is all just a crap shoot.
Who tells us not only that there is a God, but that all along this God has been on our side. Jesus who insists that the real way to be truly human is to love other humans. Jesus who invites us into Oneness with everybody – with Godself even. Jesus who says that he’s going to show us what God really thinks of us and is then ruthlessly kind and deferent, relentlessly patient and divulguent. He weeps when one of us dies and then raises him from the dead – shows us real solidarity in our suffering even as he is about to relieve it.
Through Jesus we don’t really have answers, but we do have help. I went to the Good Friday service hoping for relief, but instead I got Jesus weeping while I weep over a merciless cancer. I got un-aloneness while I looked at the things I hate looking at. I got Emmanuel. I got God With Us, God With Me.
If I let it, this tradition offers honesty. It’s not the only one that does, but it’s the one I know. If I let it, this tradition invites me through the rituals and the liturgies to admit that life is wonderful and life is terrifying. If I let it, the Christian tradition is equipped to take me in and hold me while I say out loud that even while I experience so much Light, I can’t pretend that there is no Dark.
If I let him, Jesus will grab my hand, turn us around and say, “We’re going to be brave and face it.” Together.