Apr 2, 2010

Why We Call This Friday "Good"

I grew up in the Lutheran church. Easter Sunday was wonderful, but by the time we got to church, Jesus was already alive, up and at 'em. When I was in high school I attended an Easter Sunrise service. The coolest thing I remembered was getting up at 3:30am and eating eggs at Denny's. Since then I celebrated Easter Sunday on Easter, waking up with the good news already on my mind. 

Four years ago Larry and started attending an Easter Eve vigil at an episcopal church in Beverly Hills. it blew us away. Tried as I might to keep it together, I always ended up weeping.  Two years ago we joined a different episcopal church near where we live. And we are ready for Saturday Night.

The Anglicans know how to take you through Holy Week.  If all time is present to God, then they walk you through the week as it's happening. It's like the Lectio Divina in 3-D. You are THERE.

Last night we went to Maundy Thursday. One of our pastors walked us through that last meal. Jesus had thought about what he wanted to tell his friends on the last night of his earthly life. "This bread is ME. Take and eat it. DO IT. Love one another, that's how the world will know you are mine." Then our pastors washed out feet. Talk about humbling. When it came time for communion, the same pastor who'd given the sermon, gave me a swatch of that bread, pressed it firmly into my palm and said with deliberation: "Susan: this Christ's body. TAKE IT and EAT IT." It felt like I was there at that table with the disciples. Only I now knew what it meant, that bread.I knew what it was goign to mean in less than 24 hours.

The choir continued to sing, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Let All Mortal Flesh keep Silent. No jaunty triumphant songs. Not yet. Then pastors stripped the altar. Episcopalians have a lot of stuff up in the front of the church. Banners, doilies, candles, flowers, and of course the cross. But they stripped all of it, washed the altar (our pastor Anne reminded us that this was to signify getting that altar ready for a dead body to lie on it. Yeah, no jaunty easter eggs just yet).  And then they left.   The choir vacated their place up front and sat in the pews. We sat there staring at the entire front area of the church, totally bare. Totally barren. Bereft. Jesus was off getting arrested by now.

Suddenly ALL the lights in the church went out, the heavy wooden door into the altar area was SLAMMED SHUT. It sounded like a gunshot. It was shocking.  We sat there in the dark. Silent. There was the sound of tears somewhere off behind me. And some in front of me. And next to me. And mine.

I forget what it was like for the disciples,  and Saturday night. They were huddled somewhere in shock. Their leader had been assassinated. All those plans about the kingdom of God coming, arriving, it was gone. All those hopes about justice returning. Gone. And all those moments with their friend. Over done dead.  We sit from our confident promontory in 2010AD, we know how it all turned out. But they didn't know. Not yet.

We will attend Easter Vigil this Saturday night. Waiting in the dark. Of course we know it ends well. We actually bring our cowbells to ring. In what church can you actually say, "More cowbell!"
We will.

But for now it's Friday.

Here's a poem I discovered this week. They sang it in church, set to Thomas Tallis' Third Tune. Ralph Vaughan Williams composed "Fantasy On A Theme By Thomas Tallis, which you heard if you saw the movie, Master and Commander.

If you can, play this mp3 file and hear it over the words below.

To Mock Your Reign

To mock your reign, O dearest Lord,
they made a crown of thorns;
set you with taunts along that road
from which no one returns.
They could not know as we do now,
that glorious is your crown;
that thorns would flower upon your brow,
your sorrows heal our own.

In mock acclaim, O gracious Lord,
they snatched a purple cloak,
your passion turned, for all they cared,
into a soldier's joke.
They could not know, as we do now,
that though we merit blame
you will your robe of mercy throw
around our naked shame.

A sceptered reed, O patient Lord,
They thrust into your hand,
and acted out their grim charade
to its appointed end.
They could not know, as we do now,
though empires rise and fall,
your Kingdom shall not cease to grow
till love embraces all.


'Lil Bug said...

dear SI...good about the Great Vigil (it makes the entire liturgical year come to finality and make both literary and proclaims the reason for the Gospel come to a fine point.
However, looking at the title of the piece where's Good Friday...if you are a long time
Episcopalian you will remember the 3-hours of "compiled liturgy and liturgies from many places". Now it has a beginning, middle, and an end with or without Communion from the Sacrament reserved from Maundy Thursday. Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed! faithfully,
Father Gary D McConnell

faeren said...

I would like to curl up in the robe of mercy and take a long, long nap. Rest. Peace.

marfa said...

Love this liturgical approach to Easter - it does walk us through it in the present. In the Catholic tradition, Easter is also when one renews the vows taken on our behalf at Baptism - like renouncing the glamour of sin, etc. Very good reminder that the resurrection should live with us the rest of the year.

Deb said...

Our Lutheran church does a Tenebre service on Good Friday...the Pastor talks about the seven last words Christ spoke on the cross. It starts with everyone taking a nail and nailing it into a wooden cross. The church gets progressively darker and each of the 8 candles on the alter get snuffed out until there is one left. That "Christ Candle" is walked out and you are left in darkness. Then comes the slamming shut of the bible. You are left in darkness but then the "Christ Candle" is brought back in so as to symbolize what is to come Easter Morning. LOVE this service! Also we do an Easter "Sonrise" service at the beach.
There are so many churches out there that just celebrate Easter Morning...How can you know the joy of Easter without the going through the pain of Holy Week?

Anonymous said...

"Their leader had been assassinated."

Worse than that. He had been tried, convicted, and executed.

What went through the disciples' minds?

"Did Jesus actually deserve it?"
"Am I next because I was His follower?"

Only Peter and John followed Jesus to the High Priest's house.

Then only John followed Jesus the rest of the way.

The doubts in the other's minds must have been gut-wrenching.

James said...

Susan, this sounds so foreign to me, as I grew up in very informal churches. But it sounds beautiful. Thanks for sharing this.

James Williams

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