Easter Reflections on Good Friday, or is it Good Friday Reflections on Easter?
The hardest part of Holy Week is having to write my Easter Vigil sermon on Good Friday, after very solemn worship, in the midst of real grief of what it is we human beings did to God when we crucified Jesus. Maybe other clergy are much more disciplined, and can get all of their Holy Week sermons done ahead of time, so they can focus on the week, but I have never been able to manage that.
And so this year, once again, I find myself empathizing with the disciples, in their FIRST experience of the crucifixion of their friend, lord and master. I say first experience, because for the rest of us, WE know how the story turns out. We KNOW there will be a happy ending, but if we are really living the liturgies freshly, through the anamnesis of sacred time, we still feel that wrenching of our emotions as we shout "Crucify him!" on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
If we are self-aware, and have used Lent as a time to examine our consciences, we know that we are capable of the fear and fickleness that would lead us to demand Jesus' crucifixion, to betray him to the authorities, and to deny him when others identify us as his followers.
And so Good Friday is a hard time to write an Easter sermon.
Not to go from the completely sacred to the outrageously mundane, I once had to preach at the Easter vigil on the same day that my alma mater, the University of North Carolina, lost in the semi-finals of the NCAA basketball tournament. It didn't help that they lost to the local team of my parishioners, and I had sworn my allegiance from the pulpit just a couple of weeks earlier. To get so CLOSE to winning it all, and to be beaten while I sat in a sports bar with one other friend pulling for UNC as everyone else was wildly cheering for the enemy, was a very real experience of heart wrenching, and I am embarrassed to admit, not any less than the heart wrenching I feel today on Good Friday, trying to conjure up conviction for the Good News of the Resurrection.
And so this day, I begin with the disciples' approaching the tomb after they have probably wept all night, wondered if it was all a lie. Even though Jesus had told them this would happen so that God could be glorified, I imagine that they had no clue what that might look like. When I have gone through the agony of the death of someone I have loved -- when my mother died, and later my husband -- I could not have been comforted by the words, "Someday, you will be wiser for this experience." Thank God no one said it to me!
Even as a person of faith, a person raised in the church, who (currently) believes with every fiber of my being in the Resurrection that ALWAYS follows crucifixion, I could not have been comforted by the reminder that my loved ones would be raised with Christ. It is and was true, and will always be true, but when we are in the midst of grief, such words are like the women's words to the rest of the disciples when they told them that they had seen the risen Christ: "these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." (Luke 24:11)
It takes awhile for the realization to sink in. And we want to see for ourselves. And so, each of us must roll away the stone from her own heart, and let the Risen Christ be known to her. Again and again and again. That's why we have liturgy. That's why we must walk through Holy Week EVERY year, and come out in Easter, starting in the darkness of the Easter Vigil, when we are like those first disciples approaching the tomb, with its rolled away stone.
But first I have to get through Good Friday.