So Holy Week is ripening... this is a complicated time for all who honor the sacred journeytowards the Cross. For those who choose to come to worship, hard choices must be made re: schedules, commitments, family and work priorities. Many in my tradition find it hard to navigate the fully liturgical commitment. And while I understand the pressures, I also know that part of the wisdom and blessings are lost without the full Monty. For church staff, our secretaries and custodians are going nuts keeping up with the printing and cleaning; church musicians are trying to stay grounded given the artistic demands of multiple liturgies; and clergy are wrestling with the challenge of saying anything meaningful - especially after all these years. Our egos are involved - we want to be profound and well-liked - we want to make a difference to those who come to worship. And the pressures to be significant are enormous.
Often, we have created a new liturgy for Good Friday - an experimental combination of both ancient texts and contemporary music - and it is always powerful but exhausting. This year, given our shared sabbatical, I chose the path of least resistance. And while we will still celebrate Eucharist on Wednesday at 12:10 pm, conduct Eucharist and Tenebrae on Thursday at 7 pm and lead the faithful into a meditation upon the Cross on Friday at 7 pm, this Good Friday will be different. There will be silence and Taize - candle light and poetry - it will be a simple and gentle time instead of our often bold but emotionally demanding liturgy.
I am so grateful I made this call early on. I am blessed that we pulled the plug on the Paul Winter Earth Mass we had first planned for April 19th, too. According to my official Countdown to Sabbatical it is just 30 days to lift off. All the liturgies have been printed, all my written reflections have been written and now it is time to emotional enter the deeper journey. Here are my notes for Friday.
REFLECTIONS FOR GOOD FRIDAY
For the past 15 years I have been perplexed at even the Church’s denial of Good Friday. I mostly understand why popular culture avoids this day like the plague – Good Friday demands that we own and embrace the cruciform nature of all creation – how new life only springs from death – so in an era obsessed with youth I understand why most people choose to stay away from worship on this night. After all, most contemporary people stay away from worship PERIOD – and mix it with death – forget it!
The statistics are clear: for every one person who chooses to connect with a church these days, three people leave. In 2015 there are far more people who never even think about worship than actually participate. And that’s a mostly healthy and good thing – people have a strong BS detector after being burned so many times by the church – so I am glad they are suspicious. In fact, I give thanks to God that the glory days of cultural Christianity are over.
What I don’t get, however, is why so many Christians run away from Good Friday. Are we equally infected with cultural relativism? Are we similarly addicted to the lie that we can live forever and always remain in control of our lives? Are we just as suspicious as those who have never experienced the Good News? I wonder… especially tonight. That’s why for the past 15 years we’ve been experimenting with Good Friday worship. Not only do most people stay away anyhow; but the symbolism of this night is so rich and complex that I’ve long believed it was open for radical reinterpretation.
Sometimes Good Friday sounds like the blues to me – and even cowgirls get the blues, right? Other times, Good Friday sings the songs of nonviolence and social transformation in ways that cut deeper than anything Occupy Wall Street ever imagined. And Good Friday often cries and moans like Mother Nature herself agonizing over the mess we've made in creation. It is simply the most creative and spiritually complex time of worship in the whole Christian catalog – and most people stay away. I just don’t get it… well, maybe I have one clue. And it comes from the way Jesus interacted with his disciples.
Fr. Richard Rohr once wrote that “Jesus was very, very patient with his disciples – and that is good news for all of us.” He went on to explain that over and over again, Jesus told his friends about the paschal mystery: the cruciform nature of all creation.The way God set up plant life, animal life and human life to be renewed and strengthened through our encounters with trial and sorrow and even death. The earth gets it – and doesn't resist or deny reality as fall gives way to winter before the renewal of spring. Same is true with animals – they get it, too – and never once complain about where they fall on the food chain. It is just we human beings who insist on acting like real life means we’re always in control.
The good news is that most of us can learn about God’s way; the bad news that can becomegood is that most of us only learn to live in God’s wisdom by falling down and suffering. We’re stubborn. We’re willfully ignorant of what the Spirit wants us to know. In fact, most of us don’t want to believe that the way up in life requires us to fall down – that the way of spiritual blessing is always through subtraction and never addition - so God has set creation in motion in such a way that this mystery is done to us. Often without our endorsement and certainly without our initial support, we learn to fall upward by falling down.
Rohr likes to say that hardly anyone goes to the Cross willingly: most often we don’t choose to pick up our Cross and follow – we try to run in the other direction – so it has to be done to us. That’s where the story of the disciples comes in: three times in the gospels Jesus tries to explain this to his disciples.
· The first time comes after Peter confesses that he believes Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus then tells him: Exactly, Peter, and now the son of man must suffer many things at the hands of those in power… even death before I will be raised again to new life. To which all the friends of Jesus freak out and protest in denial, prompting Jesus to shout: Get thee behind me, Satan. You don’t have on the mind of God but are addicted to the things of culture.
· The second time takes place after the mystical prayer meeting on the mountain we sometimes call the Transfiguration. Jesus was in deep conversation with Moses and Elijah – and afterwards he brought his healing spirit to a boy infested with demons. As they are leaving this blessing, Jesus once again says to his friends: Look, pay attention, the time is coming when I am going to be put to death – but have faith I will be raised again, too.
· The story goes on to say that when Jesus and his friends got to their evening resting place and Jesus asked his students what they had been talking about as they walked through Galilee, they told him they had been arguing about which one of them was going to be the most important after Jesus seized power. No kidding!
· So Jesus sat down asked his friends to listen again as he explained: "Anyone who wants to be the most important has to become the least important--the servant of all the others.” He knew that like most of us, we want to be on the top, we want to be in charge; but he was trying to tell them that if they want to truly be free and happy they need to go to the bottom. We want to be the boss and he tells us to become servants.
· Finally a third time this happens after a series of parables that emphasize some of the first shall be last. The group was now headed for Jerusalem and Jesus explained that he must suffer and die before being raised again by God’s love. And almost like a broken record his friends refuse to grasp what he has been saying. James and John want to know if they can sit at his right and left side when he becomes the king of a new political order.
Fr. Rohr writes that “You can almost hear the sigh and sadness in the depths of Jesus' heart when he hears these words. So, once again, he turned to them and said: "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I will drink or be immersed in the same bath that I will be immersed in?" (Mark 10:38). Jesus was trying to bring them back to reality, the inevitable reality of any human life.” And just so that there could be no ambiguity, Jesus explains:
You know how the so-called rulers of nations like to lord it over the people? And how those at the top like to make their authority felt? Well, with you it has to be different. If you want to be important, serve others. The son of man himself did not come to be served but to serve, to give his life so that everyone might be set free.” Jesus offered the world a new pattern of power and leadership, which few in church or state have ever really agreed with: we are really stubborn and often deaf, dumb and blind about this, too.
And that’s why I am so often stunned that more people don’t show up for Good Friday worship. We KNOW what we’re doing most of the time isn't working. We KNOW that we hurt and live in fear and shame more than we want – and still we keep on doing what we've always been doing but expect different results.
So THIS year we decided to let Good Friday be a time for quiet reflection at the foot of theCross. No wild rock and roll music, no big productions, no shaking you by the collar for your attention. All we've done is taken some of the scripture lessons for this night and meshed them up with poems written by contemporary artists – poems that speak to our world – in the hope that simplicity will help us lay claim to the difference between God’s way and our own. We've linked Allen Ginsburg with the prophet Isaiah – Denise Levertov with the gospel of Mark – Robert Bly with the betrayal of Jesus – Maya Angelou with the Lord’s agony on the Cross – and Naomi Shihab Nye with Christ’s death. We've also interspersed times of quiet, meditative singing and silence as a structured way for us all to slow down and let God’s upside down wisdom resonate deeply within.
Now here’s the thing: if you've never sung Taize songs before, think them like monastic jazz: you start with the melody and sing that a few times, then maybe you’ll want to add a harmony – or another instrument might come in – or you can sit things out for a spell, too. As the music breathes, swells and eventually comes to a quiet close it will have a life all its own. At the close of our time together – after some spoken prayers – you will be invited to come forward to light a candle. Your candle can mean anything you want it to mean: a prayer for someone you love – or hate – a symbol of your light against the darkness – an act of hope – your way of saying you are still lost in the mystery of life ache to be found – whatever. Tonight is given over to the mystery of God’s healing love that so often lets us fall down before raising us up. I am grateful that you chose to come out on this strange and blessed night. May the spirit of all that is true guide us.