Tag Archives: Good Friday

Easter in This Life

24 Mar
Photo via Flickr user Anne Reeves

Photo via Flickr user Anne Reeves

“Hang on,” I wrote to my friend yesterday, “Easter is coming.”

A lot of people close to me are suffering. A friend’s transplant match fell through. A high school sophomore is having dark thoughts of hurting himself. My dad got a cancer diagnosis and is waiting to hear more about the implications. A friend was sexually harassed at work. My friend’s baby is in the hospital with pneumonia, not able to breathe on his own. Another friend’s dad died suddenly. We are sitting in Good Friday, waiting for Easter.

We know Easter is coming, but Jesus’ friends didn’t. Jesus, the friend they thought was the Messiah, died. He was gone. Can you imagine the grief and confusion filling those days between? Did their minds go to anger? Resentment? Betrayal? Hopelessness? They weren’t days of waiting because they didn’t know Easter was coming. I have to imagine some of them thought is was just over. Jesus was just really gone for good. To this day, we are always surprised at the permanence of death. Death from this place really is forever. It’s jarring. So I assume Jesus’ friends were dealing with this reality. In shock. Jarred.

In that way, I feel lucky to know the whole story, to know that Good Friday is not the end. Yet unlike Jesus’ friends, we don’t get to see Jesus risen. Not yet. Easter will come after Good Friday, and then our lives here continue. I do hope Easter gives the people I care for a moment of relief, but our pain here and now continues. We trudge on, looking for ways to claim mini resurrections in this life, our messy, broken lives. I asked the young people I work with how they know it is spring:

you hear birds singing

you see green breaking through the dirt

you can walk outside without a heavy coat, scarf, hat and mittens

Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. There is relief and renewal if we just hang on. With my son more stable these days, no longer a baby, I have felt a mini resurrection in my own life. I see friends, go for a run, find myself more emotionally available to other people. I sleep through the night and wake up refreshed. I choose to claim the beauty and new life in my days, in the midst of all the suffering. It is a daily decision to acknowledge the Easter and now.

Bukowski reminds us of the mini resurrections that happen in this life while we wait for the next:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.

you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.

(experts from “The Laughing Heart”)

Happy Easter to you. May you beat death in life, sometimes. May you find your Alleluia.

Holy Week: Standing Things on Their Heads

16 Apr

Lent is a time of conversion, a time for changing ourselves and our actions as we strive to better live into our baptismal vows. Holy Week makes a fitting conclusion to this time of conversion, in that what we celebrate during Holy Week radically challenges the way we see the world, at times standing on its head things we thought we knew.

On Holy Thursday, we remember and celebrate Christ’s institution of the Eucharist meal, that is, Jesus taking bread and wine him during his last supper with his followers and friends and teaching his disciples about how to remember him. A memorable part of the Holy Thursday service is that the priest washes the feet of people from the congregation, mirroring Jesus’ action of washing the feet of his disciples before the meal. We may be so used to observing this foot washing on Holy Thursday that we forget how radical a thing it represents. In Jesus’ time, when sandal-wearing would have been prevalent, foot washing was part of hospitality. A home owner would provide a bowl of water and offer a servant to wash the feet of those who came to visit. Jesus, the son of God and leader of this group, takes the role of a servant, showing hospitality and waiting on his friends. In so doing, Jesus overturns the servant-master hierarchy, becoming the servant himself. In so doing, Jesus demonstrates that central to being a leader is serving others.

While the master-servant hierarchy crucial to the social order of Jesus’ time may seem far from our experiences, there are other hierarchies that mark relationships between people and groups of people in our time as well. Globally, we can witness a hierarchy between so-called First World nations and those nations of the two-thirds world; we also experience a growing gap between the rich and poor, a hierarchy that fed into the Occupy movements and events. What other hierarchies do you experience in your life and what can you do to reverse them? How can you live out the call to provide hospitality and service to others, particularly those who are in the greatest need?

On Good Friday, the focus of the liturgy is the cross. It is a solemn day; the altar is stripped bare and no organ plays, as people reflect on the meaning of the cross. Many churches practice the veneration of the cross, when people come forward to kneel before and touch or kiss the crucifix. Again, when we step back to reflect on this practice, what a seemingly odd thing it is to kiss an instrument of torture and death. Yet we do so not to glorify violence but to remember the cost of what Jesus did because of his love for all humanity. The cross reminds us that following Jesus is a path that requires sacrifice. Loving God and neighbor in a world of violence and sin may sometimes cost us dearly.

Unlike the earliest followers of Jesus, who were afraid for their lives because of their association with this man, in the U.S. today we can claim our Christian identity without fear of being persecuted for it. Or can we? Truly living our Christian identity in the midst of a consumer culture that propagates values at odds with Christian ideas of justice does necessitate sacrifice and may lead, if not to out and out persecution, to a strain in our relationships with those who feel comfortable standing firmly with the values of the broader society. What sacrifices have you made to follow Jesus and to show your love for God and neighbor?

As if the reversing of hierarchies and the call to follow the road of the cross is not enough to make your brain do flips, then comes Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the promise of new life. Death is not the end; raising Jesus from the dead, God shows us that love is stronger than any other force in the world. In our world, it is hard to believe this Easter message, so bombarded are we with images and stories of illness, death, violence, tragedy, and sinful interactions between people. Perhaps the most “Christian” thing we can do in our lives is to try to live not in sadness, hate, and fearfulness, but with bold joy, love, and hope, trusting that God’s love indeed has the power to do all things.

We Are Only Human: An Odd Comfort

9 Apr

There are three scenes in this Sunday’s Gospel that give me an odd sort of comfort. The first scene takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus has gone to pray. We are not told this explicitly, but I get the sense that Jesus just needed to get away from it all at this moment, to be alone, to pray to God before facing what he was about to face. Jesus is honest with his disciplines, explaining to them that his “soul is sorrowful even to death.” Addressing God as Father, a term that was unusual for Jews to use during Jesus’ time, which indicates Jesus’ intimate relationship with God, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus first asks to be spared, but then in the next breath reaffirms his trust in God, indicating his willingness to follow God’s will and not his own.

via flickr user Solle

via flickr user Solle

This is a Jesus that I can relate to; this is a Jesus I know is there. At the times in my life when I have felt deep sorrow, the sort of sorrow that feels as if it will swallow you whole, I have felt the irresistible urge to be in contact with the ground. Prostrate on the floor, I have cried and prayed, prayed and cried, imagining that Jesus, too, once knelt on the ground in Gethsemane, in touch with the dust out of which human beings are formed and into which they will return. Of course, this does not take away the sorrow, but it helps somehow to know that Jesus felt something similar. It helps somehow to know that even for Jesus is was not always easy to follow God’s will. This Jesus gives me permission to ask God if things might be another way, all the while encouraging me to trust in God.

The second scene is a familiar one involving Peter, who is milling about in the courtyard outside the high priests’ chamber, waiting, we can suppose, for the results of Jesus’ trial with the Sanhedrin. Despite his testimony earlier in the evening that he would never deny Jesus, Peter vehemently argues that he does not know Jesus to not just one, but three different groups of people who ask him if he was been with Jesus the Nazarene. (Interestingly, the first two people to whom Peter makes his denial are a servant woman and a girl, who, because of their social and gender status, likely would not have been in a position to do him harm had he affirmed his relationship with Jesus.)

Unfortunately, this is a disciple that I can relate to all too well. Luckily, I live in a time and a place where I do not have to deny having a relationship with Jesus if I am ever asked about it point blank. And yet I wonder how often my actions speak louder than any words ever could a denial of my identity as a Christian. How often do I fail to extend charity to those who need it most? How hard it is for me to include in my busy schedule time to work for justice and peace in my community? There is an odd sort of comfort in knowing that Peter, someone who actually knew and gave his life to follow Jesus, was not always up to following the call. And Peter’s response when the cock crows offers me a clue as to what I need to do when I realize the ways in which I have not lived as a disciple lives: take time to mourn.

The third scene takes place on the cross. As people are gambling for his garments and taunting him to save himself, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Scripture scholars have spent much ink debating about this cry of Jesus on the cross. From my perspective, it is an authentic cry of anguish. Yes, we know that the end of the story is resurrection, but in that moment, Jesus felt abandoned, alone, angry. And in expressing those emotions, in yelling out to God, Jesus gives us permission to do the same. We are allowed to be angry with God, to yell at God when we do not understand. It is okay because God is God, and God can take it. And again, while this does not take away our anguish, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus can commiserate with us because he experienced these very same human emotions. This Jesus is not one who shies away from the hard emotions in life. This is a Jesus who walks with us through the valleys of death.

These three scenes could be seen as dark and depressing. Maybe they are dark and depressing for someone who has never felt deep sorrow, deep anguish, deep doubt, or deep fear. But I have felt all these things, and knowing that Jesus felt them and that some of his closest followers felt them makes me feel less alone on my journey of faith. And perhaps most importantly, these three scenes remind me that it is okay to be human because that is what we are. I do not have to be perfect, and I am not expected to happily and unquestioningly follow God’s will. The journey of faith does not only encompass mountain top moments but also valleys of despair and doubt. And Jesus is not only with us looking out at the amazing vistas; he is with us most especially when we cannot see our way forward.

Our Suffering God

28 Mar

Our Suffering God by ELLIE ROSCHER

Christians claim that Jesus is simultaneously fully human and fully divine. This is a difficult concept to think about, a confusing notion to believe in. Many heresies in our Church’s history center around leaning away from the human/divine balance that Jesus carried in his being, some losing sight of his humanity and focusing too much on his divinity, some the opposite. Declaring that we believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine is bold.

In the passion story, Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a deeply human moment, where Jesus articulates that he is experiencing complete abandonment by God. Jesus is feeling totally fragmented from God even while he is divine. Yet it is in this very moment that he is God. God is a dying human, put on trial and crucified. This human plea of Jesus, this vulnerable pain of abandonment by his Father is so essential to our faith. We all, at times, feel that God has abandoned us. Yet maybe those are the moments when God is most near. If Jesus Christ himself felt utterly alone on the cross as a human, then God knows what that abandonment feels like. Jesus dies a painful, humiliating death as a full human being, as fully divine. God feels abandoned, God suffers, God dies, God resurrects.

It fills me with wonder and awe. Seeing Jesus cry out and die, knowing that he is God, these are challenging things to hold in our heads and hearts. It is hard to talk about, hard to know what to believe. No wonder Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies Jesus, and Mary, Mary and Salome are too afraid to tell anyone that Jesus has risen. I know there are times in my life I have betrayed and denied Jesus. There have been times that I am too afraid to talk about what I believe. It is comforting to know that Jesus’ friends experienced the same thing.

When was a time you felt abandoned by God?

When was a time that God may have felt abandoned by you?

What are your favorite Gospel stories that you think highlight Jesus’ divinity?

What are your favorite Gospel stories that you think highlight Jesus’ humanity?

Today, who do you identify most with in the passion story: Judas, Peter, Mary, Simon, Pilate? Why?

 

 

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