Friday, March 29, 2013

A Good Friday

I love Good Friday services (though at my home church, we did the same service on Maundy Thursday). This might sound strange; it is, after all, a service commemorating death. It is somber and reflective and sad.

For those of you unfamiliar with this type of service, the service is generally centered around readings and music. At my church at home, they slowly strip the altar, removing all decorations except for the cross. At my church here, they extinguish candles after every reading. The lights are gradually dimmed until the sanctuary is in darkness except for the one Christ candle. Then that is carried out. At my home church, they ring the bell 33 times while the congregation sits there in silence. It is deeply moving.

When I was there tonight, I wasn't feeling it. Not at first. The lights were up, I was concentrating on the music we had to sing (all a capella. I hate a capella), people were fidgety, we were super high up, so it was hard to concentrate. But then. Well, first the sermon was just the right tone (I'm so sad our associate pastor, who gave it, is leaving). I kept thinking of Lamb, which I read as a non-New Years resolution book because I love it and reading it now is oh-so-appropriate. And while Lamb is horrible sacrilegious, there are some striking moments. I was thinking in particular of when Jesus and Biff are in India, and they save children who were supposed to be sacrificed to Kali. And Jesus looks and says, "No more. No more sacrifices." Later, as Biff is struggling to accept that his best friend is going to allow himself to be killed, he realizes that that is how Jesus is going to ensure no more blood poured out. By making himself such a powerful sacrifice that he could convince God to move in a different direction.

I'm not sure how I feel about that, religious-wise. The thought that it would take the death of his son to show God that death is a bad way to worship is unnerving. But the need for a crucifixion in general is unnerving. It ties into the whole "God's plan/why do bad things happen to good people/what is going on with the world" questions that can easily derail faith. You can look at it as it takes something like that to prove to us, as humans, that God loves us and that we are doing things wrong. Which is also a hard pill to take.

Regardless, the book shows the pain of the people around Jesus. And the conflicts he faces. I think the strength of the book is that Jesus is human. He's real. He's laughing and making fun of people and struggling and trying his best to figure things out. Seeing Jesus as a person is to me necessary to see him as a part of God. The best thing about Jesus being human is that maybe, just maybe, God knows what I'm going through.

Anyways, as the lights continued to go out, as we sang our last song, the sanctuary was quiet. And I found myself moved and thinking of Christmas Eve, which is my other favorite service. And I thought, how perfect, that my two favorite services are so nicely tied, the bookends of Jesus's life reflecting each other. The two actually mirror each other; Christmas Eve the lights are turned out, and the congregation's candles are lit until the whole church is glowing. There is a peace and a hush until the bells ring out in exultation and everything is joy. You leave, chatting, catching up with people you haven't seen in ages. Everyone is happy and expectant.

At the end of Good Friday, everyone leaves in silence. The sanctuary remains dim and undecorated. People whisper their goodbyes, and there is a heaviness. A sorrow at the way the world is tonight, that people would rather do great harm than face the truth. The question of whether you would betray, you would deny. I see so much of myself in Peter. When confronted, when it is my life at risk. Could I have done anything differently than he did?

This, too, is as much of the story as Easter morning, or Christmas. We cannot experience the joy without going through the sorrow. And most of all, how can we understand the miracle if we can't comprehend the loss?

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