April 10: Why?

We have come to Good Friday.  Dark is never darker than here.  As an exhausted and broken Frodo Baggins says to his faithful friend Samwise Gamgee after their quest to destroy the Ring of Power is fulfilled and the world around them is being destroyed, “I am glad you are here with me at the end of all things.” (Ask me later if you need the reference but I hope you don’t!)  The end of all things, as far as Jesus’ shattered disciples knew, began at the foot of the cross.  I have pondered the devastating mystery of this day my entire adult life and find myself so unworthy to say anything at all with the specter of Jesus’ death hanging over us, and with so many crowding into heaven right now, today.  Good Friday invites silence, and yet, in this reflection, we must speak some word.  So, quite haltingly, here goes.

I can find only two reasons to call this day Good.  The first reason involves the Judeo-Christian enduring proclivity to proclaim the divine reversal, a theological opposite day in which God says or does the thing we least expect for the most unanticipated reasons.  Adam and Eve break the only lease requirement in the garden homeowner’s association covenant, and they are evicted but then the landlord feeds and clothes them afterwards?!  Their sons compete for God’s approval and the younger is approved while the older is not?!  (See also Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, etc.!)  Every significant biblical personage really doesn’t want the job God assigns but God uses them powerfully to change the course of the world?!  (See Moses, Samuel, Saul, Jeremiah, Elijah, Peter, Paul, etc.)  Dead is not really dead sometimes (see Joseph again, Hebrew band of slaves in the wilderness, David again, various children around prophets, Jewish nation a dozen times over, Paul, Lazarus, etc.) while every principle of fairness and logic are upended with enthusiasm (the last are actually first, the poor and destitute and impoverished are the ones who are blessed, poor Lazarus looks down upon wealthy Dives, all workers receive the same pay, the deadbeat son is welcomed back with a feast, prostitutes and tax collectors go into heaven before religious professionals) and on and on.  The Messiah on a donkey washing feet like a slave.  The widow’s mite.  Every parable Jesus ever told about the Kingdom of the Heavens features the divine reversal.  And in Jesus’ case, ignominious, torturous death means glorious, resurrected life.  To be emptied is to be abundantly filled once again.  I am a Christian because this axiom has predominated my lifetime apprenticeship with Jesus.  I literally no longer live, but Christ lives in me because He gave Himself up for me.  Only when something dies, the Johannine Jesus patiently teaches, can new life spring forth.  Horrific Friday (I mean really, even for the Romans this is barbaric) becomes obversely Good in the Kingdom of the Heavens.

The second reason is embedded in Egeria’s journal for Good Friday.  I’ve read this section many times and just today saw her words, a throw-away line really, for the first time in a new light.  After another exhausting full day and afternoon of uninterrupted worship, she writes:

On this day there is no announcement that people are to keep vigil [another all night prayer watch]…obviously they are tired.  But nonetheless it is the custom to watch there, and all who wish—I should have said, all who can—still keep the vigil there anyway…All the night through they sing hymns and responses until morning comes.  Most keep watch, but some only come later on, and some at midnight, doing whatever they can manage. 

Doing whatever they can manage…wow.  Just like us right now.  Tired, faithful, most keeping watch while others come later and some not at all.  Egeria’s generosity of spirit shows in her non-judgmental assessment that mostly everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances.  I can call this day Good because I would fail this test every single day and more than twice on Sundays!  What I can manage is miniscule.  What God can manage is eternal, cosmic and undulatingly transformational!  Jesus’ love transforms today from the end of all things to the beginning of a brand-new thing.  He succeeded.  That’s why!

  1. Go there.  Why not?  Answer the old spiritual, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?  Today is a fast day, for me liquids and a shake from sunrise until sunset then a reasonable meal.  Watch a Netflix or other classic movie featuring Jesus’ crucifixion, now ubiquitously on YouTube.  Each tradition reveals its own theological biases so pay attention to who is posting.
  2. Come with us.  Why not?  Download the bulletin and video from our website, and the Episcopal Church in Colorado also has a service available here.  Take in a few reflections and services especially from 12 PM to 3 PM when Jesus was being actively executed.
  3. If you want to view something very close to what Egeria narrated for Good Friday please view here and here.  4th century Jerusalem was every bit like this, and yes the Ethiopians were there then too!

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