On Sunday morning, the dusty organ tune gradually modulates from the offering hymn, accompaniment of sacrifice, as dry hands place freshly sealed envelopes into cold gold plates lined with velvet, to the doxology, Praise God from whom all blessings flow. We all stand and the pews creak with our shifting weight to acknowledge the holiness of our gifts. As I harmonize the Amen, Plagal cadence, the organist’s skillful transformation of D flat to G major whispers that I, too, can modulate from anything to praise.
Good Friday makes us uncomfortable. The blood and the gore of the crucifixion makes us sick. The guilt that all of this had to happen because of our own terrible actions in this world is almost too much. And it is for these reasons that we must sit in this space known as Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Most of us skip straight on through from Palm Sunday to Easter morning. Those are the fun parts, the happy parts. We listen to children sing and wave branches and sing Hallelujah. But these two bookends of Holy Week mean significantly less without what happens in between. If we consider the rest of Holy Week, Palm Sunday suddenly becomes a little more bittersweet. While the people rejoice and make a beautiful gesture to Christ by laying down coats and branches, one that had been done before in their history to greet kings, Jesus knew what was coming. He knew that because of these actions, he was seen as a threat to be exterminated by the Roman government. He likely knew he was in danger by entering Jerusalem. He knew the time was coming. Yet, the people rejoiced and exalted him.
When Thursday comes, we remember the power of Eucharist. These were the final moments of peace Jesus would have before the excruciating events leading up to his death. For his disciples, it may have been just another Passover at first. But then Jesus did some strange things. He washed their feet. He told them the bread was more than bread and the wine more than wine. He tried his best to get the message through to them in these last moments they had together. Not only was Maundy Thursday the last moments Jesus spent with those who loved him before his death, but it’s also Jesus’ final demonstration of what this whole thing has really been about. He shows them humility. He tells them that his body is a sacrifice. He models the vulnerability of ministry. And they still don’t quite get it. But they will.
Then Friday comes. So many of us don’t participate in Good Friday, especially compared to the droves of people who show up on Sunday. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy or because we don’t see the point. But there is no Easter without this terrible day. If we cannot force ourselves to sit in the sadness and the pain of Friday, what good is Sunday? If Christ is not dead, how can we celebrate him being alive? We have to allow ourselves to experience the death to experience the resurrection. In my tradition, we strip the sanctuary. We read the painful Passion story and watch as candles get blown out and the adornments of the sanctuary are removed. The crosses are hidden by black cloth. There is nothing to celebrate. Jesus is dead. All is lost. It is painful. I feel the weight of it in my chest. Now, of course, we know what is coming. But the disciples didn’t know. They thought it was over. When Christ declared, “it is finished,” it really was finished for them. This man they had followed and given their lives to, who had shown them the face of God, was gone. There is no victory in this day. There is no hope.
Yesterday, on Good Friday, as I left the sanctuary of my church in silence, I was struck by the silence of all those around me. We left the sanctuary without a sound and carried the reverence through the hallways of the church, only daring to speak once we had entered the parking lot. The holiness of the pain and suffering we held space for was staggering. The weight of Good Friday sunk in during these moments. I was grateful to worship a God who understand my pain.
Today is Holy Saturday, perhaps my favorite liturgical day of the year. That may seem like a strange statement, but the waiting of Holy Saturday sits true in my life. In Saturday, there is tension. Saturday is the day when the disciples began to process what had happened. The tragedy was over. The body was buried. It was a day of sitting around and wondering, “what do we do now?” It is a day of sitting in darkness. In the words of Thomas Merton, “when the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues; in which we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light – then we find out whether or not we live by faith.” It’s in the hours of Holy Saturday that we realize our weakness. Human power cannot bring Christ back from the grave. No amount of wailing or pleading done by the disciples could resurrect him. They must have sat around together, confused, crying, defeated, as anyone does after a tragedy. I imagine them sitting in a house all together. No one knows what to say because the pain is too great. They know they have to follow Christ’s instructions to continue to spread his message of hope, but things do not feel hopeful. They feel broken and they only have each other. Life feels like this sometimes. In fact, for a lot of us, we often feel broken more than we feel resurrected. And the feeling of Holy Saturday affirms that for me. We have a God who knows suffering. It’s ok for us to feel broken and lost and confused. In fact, to fully open ourselves to these two days of mourning means that, when Sunday comes, we may rejoice more fully.
Right now there is pain. But resurrection will come. Be here in this pain, with me, with the disciples, and with Christ, but know that it won’t last forever.