He was dying, there was no denying it. I came to the ICU room after receiving a code blue while working as a chaplain in a hospital, and after a quick scan of the usual medical staff attempting to stave off the darkness of death for a little while longer, I realized his impending death had not been a slow descent into sickness, but quick and unexpected. Two of his adult daughters stood opposite the room full of anxiety and fear. As the staff continued to work to bring him back, we sat and I held these two women as they cried. Tears pooled in my lap as one doubled over with grief as she sobbed and shook. In my ear came the persistent refrain from her sister as she rocked back and forth beside me, “please don’t let him die, please don’t let him die, please, God, don’t let him die.”
This is darkness. Death of a loved one draws us into an unknown depth of love and pain, fear and longing. This is a known experience, though maybe experienced differently, this is a story we all know. There are stories we know deep in our bones; there are stories that are so much a part of who we are that we barely need them to be retold to remember the details. Stories fill our lives, stories that span from hopeful and joyful to tragic and traumatic; we know them intimately.
We know this story. We know the story of the betrayal and denial of Jesus, as much as we know the stories of his miracles. We can visualize Jesus standing before Pilate as the crowds cry “Crucify him!” We can see Christ carrying the cross by himself to the Place of the Skull. We know the moment when Jesus speaks to his mother and the beloved disciple before he breathes his last breath and gives up his spirit. We know the moment when Jesus’ side is pierced rather than his legs being broken. And we know the moment when they take the crucified body of our messiah off of the cross and lay it in the tomb. We can recount the story of the gospel read today, getting all the events in the right sequence. It is not, however, simply knowing the story that lets us experience the truth of Good Friday.
The embodied experience of this narrative from the gospel according to John reminds us that death and pain requires us to stop, to wait, and to remain with the experience of grief and loss. Every year we hear this narrative from John’s gospel recounted on Good Friday, and every year we are reminded that before there is the hope of Easter, there is the pain and loss of Good Friday. Our lives are interrupted by the reality of the passion and the trauma of the cross; it requires us to stop the constant pace of our lives and to stop the assumptions with which we normally operate.
Good Friday begins a period of waiting; this time of waiting is neither easy nor light, it is heavy and dark. Christ is dead. Christ is dead, and the reality that Christ will rise on Easter does not make the truth of the death of Christ any less painful. In this middle space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we sit and we wait with the reality that our messiah is crucified.
We sit and we wait with the reality that Christ is dead, and take time to acknowledge the reality of the pain and loss that death brings. This space in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a sacred space, a middle space. This middle space allows us not only to face the uncomfortable reality of grief, but also forces us to take note of the tender and raw experiences of those who suffer. Good Friday is a time to meditate on the crucifixion and all of the consequences and events that led to that moment in our savior’s life, and it also sets us on the journey to the hope of the risen Lord, but it refuses to let us jump ahead. This middle space demands that we sit and wait with those disciples who mourn. This middle space demands that we look around our congregation, our community, nation, and world and requires us to mourn with them as we all wait. We all wait for the hope that is to come, but just as we know the sequences of events in the passion narrative, we know deep within our souls that we cannot rush hope. Sunday does not come without Friday and Saturday.
Just as we wait with the disciples outside of the tomb, we wait with those for whom Good Friday in not simply a period of 24 hours. We wait, as God waits, with those for whom the reality of the pain and loss of Good Friday is an everyday occurrence. Those for whom hope seems far more distant than a weekend’s time and those for whom the terrible reality of Good Friday defines their days, these are the people with whom we wait. We wait with them, as God waits with them, in making our presence and our prayers known. We pray not to unduly heed hope, but to make this traumatic, unstable ground, holy ground; we make our presence known not to hush the wailing and the weeping, but as a sign that God is here with us, even as hope is gone with Christ’s death.
We must remain here in this moment; we must remain here in this moment as we wait with those who suffer. We remain as a witness to the end of hope even as we know that it will soon return. We remain with those whose lives are a constant struggle of war, violence, and oppression; we remain with those who spend their days fleeing from one unsafe place to the next, hoping for a day to come of rest and peace.
This passion narrative from John’s gospel is one that calls us to stop our expected trajectories, to notice what is happening around us, and to become aware of the pain and suffering that is taking place; this passion account halts our normal sense of order and disrupts how we perceive the world to work. This is a story we know, we know it deep in our souls. We know this story not just because we hear it every year, not just because it disrupts our lives year after year; no, we know this story so intimately because it is the story of suffering, it is the story of trauma, it is the story of those who have been treated as less than. This story is the story of the crucified messiah, yes, but it is also the story of the end of hope. Throughout Jesus’ life there are moments of deep humanity: Jesus weeps, he eats, he walks, he loves, but there is hardly a more human moment from the story of Jesus’ life than that of his death. It is a moment of intense pain and suffering, and it is through Good Friday that we connect with Jesus and his disciples even as we still wait and remain with those for whom hope is dead and yet still to come.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church on Good Friday, April 19, 2019 on the Passion of Our Lord, according to John.