I accepted an invitation to sit with an old friend in a peaked sanctuary lined with gorgeous stained glass tonight. My distracted thoughts were flying every which way, flung from the tornado twist of a busy day, busy week, busy season…
I’d every intent to go to a Good Friday service tomorrow, as was my custom. This was new.
There was liturgy and soaring sacred hymns. Communion. Prayer.
Very formal, but nothing unexpected.
Someone robed and behind the pulpit spoke the word “tenebrae” and I had a passing thought to google the definition later.
Before walking in the rain through the large carved doors earlier, my spirit acknowledged it’s own weariness and the little expectation to receive anything “new” after years of being steeped in the horrors and truth of this day.
Growing up my physician father shared messages at many churches about the crucifixion from a medical perspective… How exactly the Roman soldiers would pull Christ’s flesh & muscle from His bones. What it meant to sweat drops of blood. How the cross murdered through suffocation and drowning… images burned into my ten-year-old brain forever.
I’ve seen the Passion of the Christ multiple times, always shaking at the reminder and cowering in the uncomfortability. Last year your Hopers wrote about this day. The gospel accounts in my study Bible have been read and re-read.
What else could there be to understand?
How foolish it was for my weary spirit to assume that there’d be nothing new for the Spirit to say.
The paper in my hand that listed the hymns and scripture references also mentioned that the end of the service would be in the dark.
After communion the story of Christ’s betrayal began and with each step towards the cross, candles were snuffed out in the sanctuary.
Another verse, another flame extinguished.
The sanctuary was growing dark… traces of twilight barely etching shadows against the walls. Eery. Somber. Heavy. Until only one lick of fire glowed and the last verse was read; as our minds attempted to wrap themselves around the death of the Savior, with one whisp of breath full night descended.
It was powerful.
It should be.
The hundreds of parishioners filed out in silence. The slick dark rain outside seemed fitting.
Not wanting to lose the weighty, necessary grief that hung in my heart – my thumb turned the volume dial to detonate more vivid words and imagery into my soul…
“When You cried out from the garden,
‘Let Your will be done, not mine!’
When You took the weight of my mistakes,
So I don’t have to fight them…
Now I let the sun rise on every scar and every sign,
Of when You took this bruised and dying soul
And breathed it back to life.
And I am undone.”
My bones rattled. Tears poured very unexpectedly down my face.
And I realized that indeed the Spirit had something new to say in the darkness of this Maundy Thursday.
Always knowing that Jesus encompassed the full mystery of being wholly man while wholly God, my assumption had been that in His begging of the Father to “let this cup pass from Me…” His omniscience as Deity quelled any anxiety… any fear… any terror.
But as my brain bent to try and understand what it hadn’t before… that if in claiming all along He was FULLY human, well… that meant that His anxiety, His fear, His terror was FULLY real.
I’ve never pictured Christ quaking, or crying, or begging.
But I’ve known those emotions more than I’ve known rejoicing.
A year ago this thing of hoping with and for you ended.
What was originally only a respite became a swinging “out of business” placard.
And much of it was because, for all the other legitimate reasons of busyness and better-things-to-do, the reality is that hope became too hard.
Last spring severe hemorrhaging led to emergency ultrasounds that showed cancer in my insides. A biopsy proved fruitless. No health insurance meant no surgery, no chemo, no answers, no plan. A year later and still no answers, just the unbearable weight of wondering what could maybe be killing me.
Last spring romantic love bloomed and blossomed as wedding details were discussed and shiny things were planned. Then one day after a doctor appointment he said “If you have cancer, I’m not a strong enough man to take care of you. I’m not a strong enough man to take care of you spiritually either. I can’t do this anymore.” And he left.
In the moments on my knees wretching as my heart wrenched, I screamed out to God to take the unbearable pain and the pain I knew was coming.
Tonight it hit me for the first time…
THAT was the kind of begging Christ did.
But He was begging not to die.
As the months drug on, my personal pain never dissipated…
Best friendships unstitched from broken trust.
Exhaustion led to days in bed and the inability to battle accusations that I was selfish and weak and not really a Christian.
Sunday mornings commitment called me to continue visiting churches, always hoping to find a home, but being told in different ways that because I was “older” and unmarried and childless, there wasn’t community to assign to “someone like me.”
A wide chasm of separation stretched inside my family, my tribe, and between me + God.
Weekly counseling proved to shift my bank account more than my paradigm.
Laughter and joy were rare or forced, and hope was non-existent.
The girl whose arms were almost always swung wide to dream + do + delight in, she disappeared.
Tonight the truth of how I went missing was given illustration…
With every anchor untethered, each knot untied…
I was snuffed out.
It wasn’t me that was put to death.
It might have felt true – but God and I were never separated.
The veil needn’t be torn again, because it never hung between us in the first place.
It was Christ, not Kate, whose life was taken (or more accurately, given.)
Hope was indeed too hard for me. (And I know has seemed too hard for many of you.)
It became too hard to maintain and impossible to manufacture.
But hope always seems lost on the Maundy Thursdays and the Good Fridays…
Hope seems lost often in our brokenness and finite understanding. It seems broken and irreparable as the enemy appears to win.
The weight of death, loss, torture, heartbreak, pain, separation, fear, and betrayal aren’t to be minimized.
But, and I am barely a seed budding above ground these days, while hope might seem too hard seeing the cross still dark with blood and the stone tightly entombing our King…
As you enter this celebratory weekend, before you raise your hands in praise… dip your chin low in the darkness. Though we will never truly understand what our Jesus felt like as He begged His dad to think of another way to rescue us, it’s hard and heavy and should be to realize that as a man fully human indeed – hope seemed too hard for even Christ.
Lord Jesus, please forgive me for assuming that what you suffered was only physical and that your hopeless anguish wasn’t agonizingly real. Let me never forget what my own lesser experiences with that pain has felt like. Let me never offer saccharine solutions or silver-linings when encountering hearts that feel this heavy. Please help us hold tonight’s grief somberly so that the celebration to come, and the glory of salvation + hope + miracles, means more than it ever has. Thank you for choosing death so that we wouldn’t have to be separated from You. We don’t deserve Your sacrifice. Draw that truth and it’s power into the marrow of our souls. Amen.
“Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, ‘Pray that you will not give in to temptation.’ He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.”
Luke 22: 39-44