I always feel vaguely like I’m cheating on Good Friday. I’ve read ahead; I know the ending to this story. Despite the biggest plot twist in the history of literature (God died, you guys), I find it difficult sometimes to really get in the posture of mourning when I know that—spoiler alert!—he’s coming back. He died with purpose. Wait until Sunday and we get to celebrate again. As Fleming Rutledge says in her introduction to The Undoing of Death, “The light of Easter Day now shines in perpetuity on the week of the Passion and gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest night. For those who believe in Jesus, the Cross is backlit by the dawn of God’s new day.”
So what’s the point? Why observe this day every year? Can’t we please skip ahead to Sunday? I want my chocolate.
Last week at Festival of Faith and Writing Anne Lamott quoted Barbara Johnson: “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”
Here’s the thing: in our Good Friday world, awful things happen. Every day. A ferry with a bunch of high schoolers sinks. Someone bombs the finish line at the Boston marathon. A deeply troubled kid shoots twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Friends die too young and children who couldn’t possibly deserve it are ill or starving or alone in the world. Lousy people have unwanted children who get neglected; stellar would-be parents can’t conceive.
And we don’t get to read ahead to the ends of those stories.
Today—Good Friday—is practice. We mourn, but with hope because we know the end of the story this time. So then the next time the sheer awfulness of the world hits us in the gut again we might remember the motions. Maybe when someone we love is dying too young and we want nothing more than to rail at the world—forget God, who wants to talk to God when he could fix it and he’s (extremely rudely) not doing so—about how stupid and unfair it all is and what a terrible waste—
maybe we’ll remember what it feels like to have hope in those darkest of hours. To trust that God is still at work, somehow, even when it feels like he’s abandoned everything or possibly never existed in the first place.
Maybe—not right away, mind you, because we’re still human after all, and the world can be terrible . . .
But maybe some time after next time we spend all day suffering and mourning and wondering where God is and what the hell he thinks he’s doing . . .
Maybe we’ll be able to remember that we’re Easter people.
I think that at some point, without practice, we would forget how to come out of Good Friday mode, because this Good Friday world is relentless. We would forget that even in those darkest, awfullest hours when we’ve given up all hope, God is still at work.
I’ll close with Fleming Rutledge again, who says it all more eloquently than I could ever hope to, from one of her Good Friday sermons:
We do not offer “answers” today. God did not give us an “answer”; he gave his only Son. What we offer today is the divine drama: the King must die. All our stories are gathered up into the story of the humiliation of the Son of God. . . . This makes no earthly sense, but it is this ‘strange work’ which enables us to hold on in the dark. In the darkness at noon that descended on Calvary, God’s hand was invisibly at work. This action of God is not made known in a blaze of light so that the whole world will be stunned into submission. It is made known in the darkness of the grave.
Here is the Lord’s Word for all who have gathered at the foot of the Cross today. If you know what it is like to feel abandoned by God, if you have wondered if Christian faith isn’t in fact a hoax and a sham, if you feel that pain and loneliness are a cruel joke on people who are fool enough to trust a God who doesn’t appear to be around when you need him, Good Friday is for you. In this inconceivable action of submission to the very worst that “the world, the flesh and the Devil” can do, the Father and the Son together, in the power of the Holy Spirit, have completed the work of salvation.
Blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear that Christ’s completed work is accomplished precisely in the moment of seeming defeat.