A Message for Good Friday
As Christians, our religious convictions give us confidence that death is not the end – that something beautiful awaits us on the other side. We understand the cross both as an instrument of death and suffering as well as the vehicle of salvation and unity with God.
As Christians, we most definitely have something beautiful and important to say in the face of death. But tonight, let’s not say anything. Let’s be quiet. Let’s wade into the dark waters of death without the comfort and security of the life vest of Easter.
Tonight we gather together in this safe space to think about death; not the promises of resurrection or heaven…that comes later. Tonight we think about death:
- Jesus’ death and our death;
- Jesus’ death and our role in his death;
- Jesus’ death and what it means to worship and orient our lives around a God who died.
Observing Good Friday by separating death from resurrection allows us to come to a greater appreciation for the gift of Easter. It also helps us empathize with those who have been touched by death. For, if we fail to give death its due, we might end up among those well-meaning souls who respond the same way to every instance of death, be it a sudden or long-awaited death of a loved one, or deaths of fellow human beings half-way around the world at the hands of terrorists. They say, “It is sad, but we know that God perseveres through death and those who have died are now in heaven.”
It’s an absolutely faithful sentiment; but I’m afraid such expressions fail to do justice to the pain and tragedy that death brings. Jumping too quickly to God’s promises in the midst of pain, despair, and death – insisting that post-death promises outweigh the present problems – exposes our intolerance for grief and despair.
The least we can do is gather together one day each year to remind ourselves and reorient our lives around the fact that death does have power and still stings. For at least one day we are reminded of our duty to allow space for grief and despair. For at least one day we are invited to contemplate death apart from the promise of resurrection.
We contemplate death from the perspective of Jesus’ disciples who understood his death as the end of everything they had built their lives around.
We contemplate death from the perspective of the suffering Jesus,who perhaps also feared his death would mean the end of everything he had tried to create – the end of everything he believed in.
And we contemplate death from the perspective of those who colluded to execute Jesus – those who whipped him, mocked him, teased him with sour wine, pierced his side with a spear – doing all of this free from any personal responsibility because all the injustice and hatred and murder was sanctified by the kingdoms of this world.
Tonight we gather together to think about death; not resurrection, not heaven…that comes later. Tonight we think about death. Here in this safe space we allow ourselves to be overcome by the reality of death. We despair. We are frightened. We are honest. For those of us who have lost loved ones, this is an unwelcome invitation to return to the waters of grief. For those of us who have not felt the sting of death quite so intimately, this is an unwelcome invitation to wade into the dark waters of death for the first time.
I don’t have any illustrations or colorful anecdotes. I don’t have any words of wisdom. I have nothing beautiful to offer you. As the poet W.H. Auden explained, “Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.”
Even the promises of God, which it is my Christian duty to proclaim, I will keep tucked away for Easter.
On Good Friday you don’t have to be brave. You don’t have to have answers. You don’t have to hold back the tears. You don’t have to look for the light in the darkness. You don’t have to live forever.
As our worship continues tonight we will sit as the choir sings and rise to offer our prayers. Following the prayers you will be invited to come forward to the cross. In years past we have asked you to come to the cross with something to leave, such as a flower, a prayer, or a confession. This year I ask that you come up empty, with nothing to offer; for that is how we truly are before the crucified Lord. This is how we honor the power of death. Come forward, touch the cross, linger as long as you wish, but come with nothing to offer, for only then will you have something to gain and celebrate on Easter morning.