Meditation for Good Friday
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Alexandria Va,
18 April, 2014
So the reading for Good Friday is traditionally from the Gospel of John, but there is a portion of St. Matthew’s account of the crucifixion that has gotten a hold of me, that has intrigued me for a long time.
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.
A week ago Jesus said if his disciples were silent that even the stones would cry out. And now the anointed one, the promised one, the savior to whom sweet Hosannas rang hangs here, abandoned.
Nails through his hands and feet.
A crown of thorns jammed into his head.
His back scourged, whipped until much of the skin had been taken off.
And a spear shoved through his side.
The sky went dark, even the sun refused to shine.
And his disciples had gone silent, and the stones cried out and were rent in two.
And there on the cross God himself hung. Dead.
And the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
The curtain in the Temple separated the Holy Area from the Holy of Holies, from the Mercy Seat of God. This was the dwelling place of God, this was literally God’s house.
And at the moment Jesus died, God’s home was destroyed.
From that moment on, God no longer lived in the Temple, on Zion. God no longer dwelled between the Cherubim above the Ark of the Covenant.
Many Biblical scholars believe that this tearing of the curtain symbolizes God breaking into the world. But I’d say God had already done that. God had done that thirty some years prior when Jesus was born to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
They have said that since the Holy of Holies was considered to be like Heaven, that the tearing of the fabric marked a destruction of what kept humans apart from heaven, what kept us separated from God.
I beg to differ.
At least somewhat.
I think all of that is true, or at least it became true with the resurrection of Christ. But at this point, Jesus is still dead. God is still nailed to the hard wood of the cross dead. Jesus was gone. Though we know how it turns out, The victory had not yet been won.
God had been killed on the cross. God’s home had been destroyed. And for roughly 36 hours God was not in the world.
We hear “God is dead” quite a bit. But have you ever stopped to ponder what it was like in Jerusalem in a moment where that was actually true?
After an earthquake and the sky going dark, even the folks that had not witnessed the execution of Jesus outside the city walls had to know something was up. Did folks go about their business as if nothing had happened? Did they whisper and gossip in dark corners about the mysterious occurrences. Were they subdued, either wary of the signs that had occurred or satisfied with the “Justice” they had gotten from Pilate? Did they go around with a nagging feeling that something was out of place, that something was not right, that something was missing?
Did they know when they prayed, that during that one day, out of the entirety of human history, did they know that day when they prayed that there was no God to hear them?
This is not to say God had ceased to be. On the contrary we believe that Christ had descended to the dead and was harrowing hell. But Jesus was not with the living, he was with the dead.
And God’s home was destroyed. Yes, this does mean that God is done dwelling there, and that the grace of God, held back by the curtains, held back in the temple, held back by the law… that the grace of God would pour out into all the world when Christ came back.
But today we are standing here with a cross draped in black. We’re standing here with an altar stripped down to bare wood. We’re standing here with the tabernacle left open with nothing in it. We’re standing here on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.
I wonder, on that day, was there more crime? Did people resort to more extreme measures to defend themselves? Was there an uncertain fear, an unease sitting on the hearts of those in the Holy City? Was everything to everyone just slightly off, like a photo that’s just a few degrees off, skewed enough to distract the eye,.
I wonder if even the devout prayed and felt nothing.
We will soon enough find ourselves caught up in the joy of Easter. We will don white and we will shout Alleluias for the first time in a month and a half and we will cover the church in flowers and splendor. We will celebrate Christ’s victory over the death that he suffers this day.
And it will be easy in the midst of such joy and celebration to forget this moment. It will be easy to forget what that victory cost. It will be easy to forget the pain, the anguish, the suffering, the devastation. It will be easy to forget the brutal pain inflicted on his broken body. It will be easy to forget “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And it’s true, we don’t want to dwell only on Good Friday, for our story does not end here.
But this is a feeling we need to make the celebration meaningful. Cheap victories are easily forgotten.
For the next 36 hours, rend your hearts, put yourself at the foot of the cross. Imagine a world that has lost it’s meaning. Imagine life with no animating force, imagine how it must have been to cry out on that fell day and to hear nothing, to cry out on that fell day and hear nothing. Imagine a world in which love itself has died. Weep tears of pain and sorrow and suffering. Weep for the Son of Man, turned on and destroyed by men. Veil yourself as the sky, cry out in despair with the stones.
Allow yourself to feel all there is that makes this our darkest day.
And Sunday, when you awake, and you come to the tomb and find it empty, watch as the mountains of despair, and lament and pain are taken from you and thrown into the sea by the one who appears before you today in weakness nailed to a cross, but who will return triumphant in Radiant Glory.