good, good friday
some thoughts on this holy day
It is Good Friday! And I realised I haven’t written to you guys in ages. So here’s a thought I had this morning when I was attending the stations of the cross:
This stuff is gruesome.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the stations of the cross. It’s a prayer service where we meditate on Jesus’ journey from being betrayed by his friend Judas, up until the moment when he died on the cross. Parishes everywhere try their best to make the stations of the cross prayed on Good Friday markably different…
By which I mean, of course, that they play us scenes from The Passion of Christ.
Which, like I said, is seriously gruesome. It’s horrifying, sometimes gratuitously so. I have no doubt that there have been several discourses on the appropriateness of that film, but I don’t really have an opinion either way. All I know is this: watching scenes from the Passion of Christ on Good Friday never fails to make me sob like a baby. And, I suppose, that’s kind of the point.
A friend was sharing with me once about a time when she had a tangible experience of God’s love. She was riding to work, upset about many things that were going wrong in her life, when seemingly out of nowhere a butterfly landed on her nose. And she felt like it was a message from Jesus, reminding her of His love despite the difficult situation she was going through.
I’ve had some of those experiences too. One time, I was feeling very insecure about my appearance while out with my friends, and a complete stranger came up to me and paid me a lovely compliment. That certainly felt like Jesus telling me — hey, you’re beautiful to me! And it felt pretty awesome.
But the passages from the Bible that we meditate on during Holy Week are not pretty awesome. They don’t have the gentle magic of a butterfly landing on your nose or a stranger’s act of kindness. They’re bloody, gruesome, full of suffering and torture and death. They remind us of the worst moments of humankind, when God Himself was subject to our stubbornness, and gave up His life because of our sins.
I recently read a murder mystery that took place in a quaint hillside English town. During one of the climactic scenes, the detective got locked in a Catholic church that someone was trying to set fire to. As the church filled with smoke, she turned her face to the crucifix hanging on the wall, and reflected with disgust at the horrifying image that Christians everywhere pray to.
And I kind of get it. The image of a man — any man, really, it doesn’t have to be the Son of God — nailed to a cross, skin full of lacerations, long and jagged thorns digging into his temple… it’s not the most pleasing image on the planet. It’s one thing to say that the image isn’t the point, what it means is the point. Salvation for everyone! We’re no longer doomed, hurrah! We’re still presented with the image of the dying man, though. Why’s it got to be that way?
Suffering, then and now
It occurs to me that no saint became a saint without suffering. Before Paul became Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, he was Saul, persecutor of Christians. And that title came with a fair amount of respect and riches, no doubt. The moment Saul became Paul, his life changed forever. The Jews wanted him dead and kept trying to arrest him. He couldn’t stay in one place for too long because of that. He was shipwrecked repeatedly, without food and water for days on end, and was even rejected by the Christians in the very Churches he set up.
Now I’m no saint, but sometimes I find life pretty hard too. I’ve never been shipwrecked, and neither have I ever had to go without food or water. But I do have demons that I struggle with on the inside. I’m prone to crippling bouts of depression, something I find extremely difficult to fight no matter how often I face it. There are so many things I’ve tried to give up for love of Jesus that I still miss and long for from time to time, and the temptation to go back to my old way of life is so strong that sometimes I forget why I want to follow Jesus at all.
When I feel this way, like life is too difficult and the temptation to give up so overpowering, it’s not fairytale Jesus that I turn to. I’m convinced in those moments that it doesn’t matter if a stranger finds me beautiful, or that I got a parking space outside the cinema when I needed it the most. My problems are bigger than those tiny mercies, and I need a God who will meet me there.
The merits of being a Christian
Luckily for me, I do have a God who can meet me there. When I feel so far from God that I’m convinced He doesn’t even love me anymore, I can turn to my Jesus who, if just for a moment, felt just as I do during His earthly life.
Because he said those beautiful, sorrowful words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The words in the heart of every suffering human were uttered, too, by our suffering God. And when he sobbed in the Garden of Gethsemane, tears falling like droplets of blood from his eyes, he went through the same crippling sorrow we go through when we experience grief, loss, and unimaginable pain.
And I love this gritty Jesus, because I know He understands my pain. I love him because he suffered with me and for me. I love him because he has never been above my heartache. I love him because he is a God who will enter into my suffering, who has entered into my suffering, and who will continue to enter into my suffering. I love him because he is a God who gets it. And so I know, when he tells me to be of good cheer because he has conquered the world, that he knows what he’s talking about.
Holy, holy day
I usually feel a lot of pressure to spend this day doing as many holy things as I possibly can. But this morning as I prayed the stations of the cross in Church, I felt the Lord inviting me to just spend the day suffering with Him. I do not need to sweep my many miseries under the rug. Instead, I can sit with Him and offer up my tiny thorns, the crosses I find too difficult to carry, allowing myself to grieve with a God who understands my pain.
I do not want to spend this holy day pretending to be holy, because I know I’m not, and anyway Jesus did not die for me because I’m a holy person. He knows my sins, and all the things in my life that I struggle to bear with, and He loves me despite them… In fact, He loves me through them. There is no greater love than this!