Monday, April 8, 2002

BCP - Good Friday A - 2002

Good Friday

Holy Cross Monastery

Community Meditations

Lectionary Reading

Lectionary Reading
John 18:1 - 19:37

“... darkness came over the whole land ...” Matthew, Mark and Luke all include this statement in their accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. John does not; he focuses on what is going on within the darkness.

“... darkness came over the whole land” - a graphic description of the setting for that event at Calvary. Darkness can be frightening - I recall the blackouts in England in WWII and how scary it was as a child to be outside at night with no light whatever showing; we are all familiar with the darkness in NYC on last September 11. The darkness that came over the land on the first Good Friday began at noon and lasted until three. According to Mark's Gospel, they crucified Jesus at nine o'clock in the morning so that when the darkness descended he had already hung on the cross for three hours.

I am reminded of the story in Genesis ch. 1 where the author describes the beginning of earth: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” A wind, the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters, dealing with the chaos of uncreation, and God created light. Within that darkness, God's creative activity proceeded - and so it was at Calvary where Jesus the Christ battled with the forces of evil and wrought a new creation.

John focuses on that little band of faithful ones who stood near the foot of the cross - several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and John the beloved disciple. Their presence was important to Jesus. He loved them and they loved him. Within that small community of love they sustained each other during that terrible time, and the creative activity of God proceeded within the darkness. Jesus gave Mary and John to each other's care, knowing that love would continue to sustain them and more importantly would provide a vehicle of grace to the new community of Church that was being created. Perhaps what Jesus was doing was naming his own fear that his disciples would lose faith and was holding on to the one hope - love. Only at the last did Jesus stand alone as he confronted evil in the darkness of that place, holding on until his life finally ebbed away.

Darkness - a familiar experience for most of us at some time in our Christian journey. The darkness of the death of a loved one; of serious personal illness; of watching another suffer; of depression when we cannot break out of the cycle of internal grief and pain; of disasters and wars. We sit in darkness; unable to see a way forward. Prayer seems almost a foreign activity! The sense of darkness may be overpowering and can prevent us from using our minds in a rational way. God appears to be far from us and we do not feel His presence.

How can we deal with such darkness? We can follow Jesus' example and cry out. “I am thirsty,' cried Jesus as he neared the end. His physical pain and anguish of soul were all in that cry. The honesty of cries of pain makes them expressions of prayer that may be more meaningful than anything we say in the good times. We can be certain that the cries are heard even if we feel no immediate relief from the inward agony.

Then the business of naming fears is important for us too. As a former classroom teacher, I know the effect on a troublesome class when I have been able to call the name of a child at the root of a particular unrest. Naming a child in this way gives power to the teacher and impresses the rest of the class. Learning names is a way to gain control, to begin to exercise discipline in the classroom. In the midst of troubles in our lives, naming the fear for what it is enables us to gain control. And fear is always evil, anti-Christ; needing to be named and recognized so that its force over us can be broken.

Once a particular fear has been named, it has to be laid aside, placed at the foot of the Cross. This does not mean that the fear will go away or that I will feel better! What happens as I make this offering is that my fear itself is consecrated and I accept it for what it is. This provides a way for me to access the grace of God and I find that I can move on and continue living in the midst of the pain.

Sadly, far from recognizing the presence of the Cross, we human beings are often so obsessed with material things and our own desires that we perpetuate the suffering of the Cross rather than allowing God's Love to overcome the darkness in our own lives.

There is a Zen Buddhist story that illustrates this:

Once upon a time, the master had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen. But instead of listening, the visitor kept talking about his own concerns and giving his own thoughts. After a while, the master served tea. He poured tea into his visitor's cup until it was full and then he kept on pouring. Finally the visitor could not bear it any longer. `Don't you see that my cup is full?' he said, `It's not possible to get anymore in.'

`Just so,' the master said, stopping at last. `And like this cup, you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give you Zen unless you first empty your cup?'

St. Paul understood the need to empty out from his life all that prevented the Love of God from filling him. “For his sake I have
suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ ...” “I want to know Christ,” he says,
“and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” Far from trying to escape suffering, Paul embraced it, using it as a way of sharing in Christ's passion and so being shaped in his likeness. We cannot escape the Cross. But if, with St. Paul, we embrace the Cross of Jesus Christ, we shall also know the unbounding Love of God filling our hearts and lives and bringing peace which surpasses understanding in this present life, and the hope of eternal joy in the next.

I want to end with a story that gives us a glimpse of the context of eternity in which we are called to exercise our ministries. In his book, Our Greatest Gift, Henri Nouwen writes:

Recently, a friend told me a story about twins talking to each other in the womb. The sister said to the brother, `I believe there is life after birth.' Her brother protested vehemently, `No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us.' The little girl insisted, `There must be something more than this dark place, there must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move.' Still she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, `I have something else to say, and I'm afraid you won't believe that, either, but I think there is a mother.' Her brother became furious. `A mother!' he shouted, `What are you talking about? I have never seen a mother, and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more? This is not such a bad place, after all. We have all we need, so let's be content.'

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother's response and for a while didn't dare say anything more. But she couldn't let go of her thoughts, and since she had only her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, `Don't you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They're quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful.' `Yes,' he answered. `What's special about that?' `Well,' the sister said, `I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face. Don't you think that's exciting?'

The brother didn't answer. He was fed up with the foolish talk of his sister and felt that the best thing would be simply to ignore her and hope that she would leave him alone.

Henri Nouwen concludes: “This story may help us to think about death in a new way. We can live as if this life were all we had, as if death were absurd and we had better not talk about it; or we can choose to claim our divine childhood and trust that death is the painful but blessed passage that will bring us face-to-face with our God.”

“... darkness came over the whole land ...” As we recall that darkness today, let us recall also the creative activity of God within that darkness; let us focus on the love that sustained Jesus, Mary and John, knowing that the love of God is the only vehicle of grace that cannot be destroyed; and embrace anew the hope that is ours because of what Jesus did on the Cross.

Let us pray:

Give me courage, Father
to walk in faith:
To face those areas of darkness
within my heart
that prevent your love
from making me strong:
To engage the darkness around me
rather than being drawn
to be part of it.
So fill me with faith
that I may know
the presence of Christ
and be led by the
Holy Spirit.
Transform my fears with the
power of your love
that I may walk in
this world
with confidence
and trust. Amen.

Suzette L. Cayless
Good Friday 2002