I am a little late with this post that gives a brief explanation of the season of Easter as it celebrated in the church calendar because I got diverted by the sunny day and the Mustard Seed House garden work day this morning. I also know that Easter is still a long way off but I wanted to give us plenty of time to think about how we intend to enter into this celebration and why it is so important. So it seems very appropriate to write this while enjoying the sunshine that is very much a promise of spring to come.
I have decided too to break the post into 2 – one focused on Good Friday and the other on Easter Sunday and the Easter season so that we don’t lose the full impact of this season. Easter is the central celebration of our faith and yet in some ways it is also the most neglected. Many emerging churches that put huge effort into celebrations of the Stations of the Cross seem to let Easter Sunday pass with hardly a mention. For some reason we are more consumed with Jesus walk toward the Cross than we are with the wonder of the resurrection life he brings us.
No festival in the Christian calendar is more dramatic than Easter with its incredible contrast between the pain and agony of Easter Friday and the joy and celebration of resurrection Sunday. You may wonder why Easter Friday is called “good” when it is obviously a day of mourning. The good refers to the benefit that this day provided to all humankind through the death of Christ on the Cross.
I love the Good Friday service in our Episcopal church with the sanctuary somber and quiet, the altar stripped of its vestments and the cross shrouded in black. We leave the church in silence with the coldness of death echoing through our thoughts. The horror of Christ’s crucifixion reaches deep into my soul and as we read the verse “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me,” I am often overwhelmed by memories of times when I too have felt abandoned and alone. Knowing in that moment that Christ endured more pain and suffering than I can ever imagine has the power to open a door for my own emergence out of darkness into new life.
Growing up in Australia where Good Friday was a public holiday and attendance at church an expected tradition for most Christians, following Christ through this journey was never difficult. In the United States where most people work on Good Friday I found it to be a little more challenging – and my willingness to enter into Christ’s suffering took more discipline and suffering on my part too. However there are creative ways we can become part of this somber event and enter into some of the agony that Christ must have suffered as he endured the horrors of this last day of his life.
These days churches of all traditions set up exhibits to commemorate the stages of Jesus walk towards his crucifixion called Stations of the Cross. Some like Cityside Baptist in Auckland New Zealand invite people from their community to participate in this walk with Jesus towards the cross. If this is not part of your church’s tradition, you might like to do some research on Stations of the Cross and consider ways to bring this important tradition into your congregational worship.
Think of ways to celebrate this important day with your family too. If possible take the day off work and keep your kids home from school. Set up a home made cross on your dining table or mantel. On Good Friday morning shroud the cross with black cloth. In the evening read through the gospel passages about the crucifixion. If there is time get each family member to write a poem or draw a picture that expresses their own experience of grief and sorrow over the last year. Place these at the foot of the cross. Leave the cross shrouded until Easter Sunday morning when it can be decorated with flowers. In the evening attend a Good Friday service as a family.
The following prayer is one that I wrote one Easter Friday while reflecting on my own sense of abandonment as a premature infant who spent the first month of my life in hospital. First I read Psalm 22 which not only speaks of Christ’s sense of rejection but also connected very intimately to my own feelings of alienation. Connecting the sense of desertion that an infant must feel when alone and isolated in a baby incubator to the agony of Christ’s abandonment was a therapeutic and healing experience for me
God why did you abandon me
A tiny infant born before my time
Alone and afraid caught in a web of machines
Why this pain of isolation
Deprived of a mother’s love,
Why did you leave me with no one to care
Yet I know you brought me out of the womb
Your love whispered in my mind
Soothing, comforting, embracing
You taught me to trust in you and held me in your arms
O Lord, you were never far off
My strength and my refuge, my salvation from my birth