For most of my life Lent has been my favorite church season. Even when I was in grade school, barely tall enough to see over the railing of the pews, I looked forward to the sobriety of these forty days, their minor hymns and stark scripture readings. Between hearing the passion liturgy, the stripping of the altar, and leaving the church in muted silence, I know each of these traditions helped me to understand, more deeply, the harsh reality of the wilderness, which culminates in Good Friday.
I remember one Good Friday, ages ago, when I asked my mother for a further explanation, given the horror of the cross, of this ironic title-- Good Friday. I felt sure I could come up with something a little more appropriate. I remember her trying valiantly to describe something that is mostly indescribable, especially to a child who has not had any experience with death, particularly death on a cross.
Years- and quite a few funerals- later, it is my turn to help people understand how a day like today could be called good. In a way, it is the funerals, more than anything else, that have helped me to understand that good is almost always intermingled with grief. We can’t know the richness of one without the searing pain of other. And, even when we have felt this duality ourselves, it is not easy to impart it to another. We all must face this truth in our own time.
Today is the funeral of a friend’s father. I have been thinking of her all day, wondering what to say, as a friend, as a chaplain, as a daughter who will also, one day, sit in the seat which she occupies on this Good Friday. It is a peculiar feeling, being unable to show up in person, wondering how, from a distance, to remind a loved one who faces grief that she is not alone in this moment. In one way or another, this is a moment we all come to know well.
On Good Friday we are consumed by the darkness of death. It feels as if the air has been sucked out of our lungs. In our deflation, it is hard to imagine beyond this ending. Words of comfort are not a shortcut through the desert. There is no roadmap for the aftermath of death. There is no skipping over grief, no fast way to begin the next chapter. Instead, we have to let time do what it does best, gently make room for hope. We live through Saturday so that we are ready, really ready, for what surprise Sunday offers us.
Despite what feels like finitude, the reminder that Jesus breathed his last or throwing dirt into a freshly dug grave, this dark day represents something more than death, something strangely good. When we hold on a little longer, we discover that the end is not the end. Life continues to abide, though not as we once knew it. With time, we learn that love is even stronger than death. This is Good Friday.