This day, which is called good, is the least shallow day of the year. At my church, the cross is veiled, the tabernacle is empty. That provided the backdrop for the Good Friday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a day that brings to mind for Christians around the world the final hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, when he was condemned as a blasphemer by religious authorities and executed as a rebel by imperial authorities. In my sermon for the Good Friday liturgy, I most wanted people to know there is no place you can end up in your life, either by choice or by circumstance, that the suffering love of God has not already reached. This I believe.
Even if you don’t happen to share with me the Christian belief that the silence and the emptiness and the suffering of humanity have been mysteriously embraced in the outstretched arms of the Crucified One, surely you’ve had your own experience of Good Friday. Perhaps you’ve also had an unexpected glimpse of hope beyond disappointments, disease, and death. Or maybe you can’t imagine such hope.
These hard times and our deeply rooted convictions about them, religious or not religious, are this week’s haiku theme. So describe what you’ve experienced or what you’ve witnessed in a single verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. This is what I wrote:
On Palm Sunday Eve,
Daddy died. My Good Friday
came early that year.
The title of this post for Good Friday comes from the Gospel of Mark (15:33), where the earth seems to offer its own lament over the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion. In 2010, during Holy Week at Canterbury Cathedral, where this picture was taken, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave three lectures on the Gospel of Mark. At the beginning of the first lecture, he described the German Protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann as “[one] of the greatest Christians of the 20th century,” whose faith is directly tied to this earliest gospel:
Moltmann read Mark with very little preparation, very little Christian background. And he said that there was one sentence in Mark that made him and kept him a Christian. And that was the cry of Jesus from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Here Jesus becomes the companion of those who feel defeated, those who feel abandoned, those who feel God-forsaken. So the arms of the Crucified One embrace even people who believe themselves to be utterly separated from God.
In an article that appeared nearly a decade ago in Christianity Today magazine, “God Behind Barbed Wire,” Philip Yancey described meeting Moltmann and Moltmann’s summary of human history — past, present, and future — in a single sentence that expresses the mystery of the Paschal Triduum:
God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.
By the Jewish reckoning of days, in which each new day begins at sunset, tonight’s liturgy in which Christians will recall the institution of the Lord’s Supper marks the beginning of the Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days, which culminate in the Sunday of the Resurrection (i.e., The Paschal Feast or Easter Day). This evening is when Jesus gathered with his friends, not only sharing with them holy food in the blessed bread and wine but also washing their feet as an example of servanthood. According to the Gospel of John (13:34-35), after he had done this, Jesus said to them:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Today is also when Queen Elizabeth II continues an a centuries-old tradition of distributing alms both to those who are needy and to those who are virtuous. It was this act of charity — in the sense of love — that provided the background for this “Thought for the Day” several years ago on BBC Radio 4 by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and current Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge:
What we see today is only a shadow of what used to be done hundreds of years ago, when the monarch would actually do what Jesus did at the Last Supper and wash the feet of a number of poor people. Back in the Middle Ages, this meant that the King was just doing what priests and bishops often did, not only on Maundy Thursday but on many other occasions.
They didn’t all do it because they were lovely humble people – some were, and some definitely weren’t – but because they accepted one great truth that needed repeating over and over again, the one big thing that Christianity had brought into the world of human imagination.
And that was — and is — the truth that power constantly needs to be reminded of what it’s for. Power exists, in the Church or the state or anywhere else, so that ordinary people may be treasured and looked after, especially those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves. The Bible is crystal clear that this is the standard by which the gospel of Jesus judges the powerful of this world.
You can listen to the entire 3 minute 18 second broadcast by clicking on either the link below or the audio player beneath it: