Good Friday. It’s a day I’d rather ignore. Too uncomfortable and sobering, especially the Good Friday service where year after year I’m unable to leave with dry eyes. However what feels different about this year is I’ve been sitting in a bit of a Good Friday since January 6th when my friend, Danielle, passed away leaving her three children and husband (and all of us who loved her) to move through life without her. I’m reminded in this moment that even though I knew her body would feel better, she wouldn’t be suffering, and she would be going to be with her Heavenly Father, in those last moments, I didn’t want her to leave. I didn’t want her breath to slow until it was no longer. I didn’t want to lose this three dimensional self – that could be hugged, touched, kissed. And yet, just like Jesus, she breathed her last breath surrounded by people who loved and knew her.
In past years, I’ve been wrapped up in the excruciating pain and humiliation of Jesus’ Good Friday experience. I’ve related to his cry, “Take this cup from me, Lord,” especially sitting with so many who’ve suffered tremendously. But this year, I find myself at the bottom of the cross – feeling abandoned and disappointed.
My thoughts go something like, “This is all you got? Hanging from a tree, crucified? Where is your promise? Where is your victory? You were supposed to raise our status – take us out of oppressive Roman rules and culture. Instead, you’re dead on a cross. Hanging. Lifeless. What use were you? Why did you even come – raising our hopes, drawing us into your compassion, your healing power, your promise that God was your Father? We were fine without you, 32 years ago. We were managing. Now, deflated. Full of despair and hurt. You’ve abandoned me, all of us really. Was I crazy to believe in you? Was I crazy to believe your promises that God’s Kingdom was being made new? That God was a kind and loving master? That you would free us from Roman oppression. We are at their mercy, not yours.”
If I were there now, beneath Jesus, I may walk away in disgust. I’m not sure I would have lasted to see his body wrapped and put into a tomb. I might have missed Jesus’ own feelings of abandonment, “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I know this to be true, my sorrow would have been laced with disappointment.
With Danielle’s journey of cancer, we hoped for time, for even just one successful treatment but we were given none of it – only one brief respite with markers falling before they stormed back a month later worse than before. During her fight against cancer with failed treatment after failed treatment, I found comfort studying the life of John the Baptist, who spent his whole life serving God only to be beheaded because a girl requested it. Then there was Herod’s violence against the sons born within the window he’d suspected Jesus was born – thousands died because Herod was afraid for his status as King. I’m left with questions: What kind of God brings this type of violence to innocent people and individuals who love Him and spend their whole lives serving Him? My conclusion for today is that He is a God who isn’t as simpleminded as I am. In other words, I can’t even come close to having a mind like God. I cannot reconcile His ways.
In truth, I don’t want to rush to Easter. I don’t care Jesus rose from the dead in the moments of my Good Friday experiences, just like those who live in Good Friday due to the suffering of this world, helpless to know the day when they will emerge to Easter. And for some, it will never come here on Earth. Good Friday happens over and over as grief washes over parents who’ve lost children, husbands their wives and wives their husbands, and most disheartening, young children their mothers or fathers. I think of the refugees who have no place to rest their head, the foster children who endure feeling unwanted in a system bound to fail them, the sexual minority persecuted by the church commanded to love their neighbor as themselves, the environment groaning from overuse, pollution, and neglect and the list of atrocities encountered in human and environmental life goes on and on. In Good Friday moments we all feel the despair, the abandonment, the lack of response to our cries for relief. In these moments, I don’t care that I will see my friends, family members – my son, in heaven. I’m still living here – with my feelings of abandonment, betrayal, even disbelief over what “God has allowed?”
Where does my hope come from, here at the base of the cross? I’ve learned it does come from Yahweh. He showed His presence to all those people scoffing, grieving, and feeling abandoned or disappointed at the foot of the cross in earth’s momentary darkness, the ripping of the temple veil, the ground shaking and the rocks splitting open. I believe in a God who holds complexity in mind-blowing ways. I believe in a God who can from one perspective, abandon, yet show up. Who can give, yet take away. Who can heal, yet allow death and physical pain. Who can convert, yet allow executions. Who can adopt, yet allow neglect and abuse.
I believe I serve a God who doesn’t ask me to put away my Good Friday feelings – to pretend Easter has arrived prematurely. Yet, I believe that God asks me to remember His promises, including He will never leave me nor forsake me, that He’s making all things new, that Palm Sunday happened as He foretold it, and that Easter, though unsatisfying to my earthly self who, had I known Jesus, would miss him tremendously and wouldn’t care about the Holy Spirit coming because I’d want Him – his person, gives me hope in the unseen. And it is in this space – holding onto Hope, while feeling abandoned and disappointed that I sit at the foot of the cross acknowledging something much, much greater than myself.
To God be the Glory.