Like the devil himself was trying my patience and tempting me into despair, this morning horrific news reports bombarded me from every angle. Typically surrounded by a protective news bubble (by choice), I stumbled upon reports of dismemberment of parents and children, a radio broadcaster detailed the sick artwork of a child-hater, a blog hit my screen filled with angry rants, an article filled me in on the scandals created by a drug-dealing priest, and porn-promising spam snuck its way into my in-box. Add to this, the current hot-topic debates that equate the sacred Sacrament of Marriage to milk and unborn humans to benign tissue and it would seem the world’s gone hopelessly mad.
So in hushed stillness, we sat in the first pew waiting for The Stations of the Cross to begin on this Good Friday. My eyes searched the bare altar, scanned the purple clothes hiding my favorite statues, all in an attempt to find consolation in familiarity. The lights still out and the sanctuary lamp missing from its stand added to the strange sense of loneliness.
Then as the clock met noon, the bells chimed loudly crying out the hour, the lights clicked on and Father, the Deacon and the servers began their Cross walk. On hearing those first words, tears puddled in the corners of my eyes, but I drew them back. Genuflecting to the declaration “Because by Your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world,” I was transported in my thoughts. Watching our innocent Lord stand accused, seeing Him accept the crushing weight of the wooden cross, I couldn’t help but choke on my words as I begged His forgiveness and requested His aid to keep me from offending Him again. Choking because I know I’ll fail repeatedly.
The Welcome Distraction Of A Kiss
Periodically, when kneeling shrank my height, our 4 year old leaned over and left a sweet kiss on my cheek. These tender momentary distractions helped keep the tears at bay.
We accompanied Jesus down the long, arduous roads toward the end on a hill where He’d give up His life. The Stations of the Cross are a journey, both communal and personal. Traveling them throughout Lent leads to extraordinary grace, but especially on Good Friday.
Our steps complete, Father and his assistants disappeared and the church emptied of all signs of life. The next two hours for me were spent filling hungry bellies with a meager meal and seeing to the task of providing a safe place for my youngest to expend their ample energy before the hour of mercy called us back to worship.
Just before the third hour, I ushered my brood back into the serene sanctuary, back into the silence, the loneliness. Then, the procession stirred the stillness and as the priests reached the naked altar they prostrated themselves. Impressed by the awesome display of three large men, robed in rich red garments, lying face down on the altar riser, my son inquired, “Why are they doing that?” “They are telling God that they adore Him,” I explained, “and they are offering their whole selves to Him.”
Listening to the readings reminded me that Jesus was the fulfillment of an Old Testament promise. His Passion foreshadowed in detail to generations. Again those wet drops welled up as I considered how much God so loved the world. After the gospel recounted the Passion, Father spoke to us of the mercy of God. He reminded us that in His lifetime, Jesus Christ spent time in the company of unbelievers, of critics, of sinners, and betrayers, He turned no one away. He healed, fed and taught all who came, even those who would reject or betray Him. God is unchanging, He continues to offer Himself for all of us today, all of us.
Behold The Wood Of The Cross
Then, a crucifix was carried to the altar and its purple veil removed as Father declared, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the Salvation of the world.” Affixed to this 3 foot crucifix was a corpse of our Lord, our Salvation, which we were invited to venerate. Reaching my turn at the head of the communal line, I bent forward, delicately gripped the wood and kissed the carved, pierced feet of my Savior. A sublime moment, when such a little act has the power to release such a flood of mercy.
Returning to my seat, I found myself considering all those horrific news reports and the perpetrators that gave them warrant. Jesus died for them, too. Even if they come late to work in the fields, He promises them the same wage, salvation. Evil will never overpower mercy. The morning’s temptations to despair were arrested in this moment by Truth. While the world may be going mad, evil will be conquered just as it was on Calvary.
The reception of Christ’s Body and Blood followed, increasing my strength and then once again the Good Friday celebration was complete. But left on the altar riser was that crucifix and I found myself wishing to curl up at its foot (I restrained myself for fear spectators would decide I’d finally and completely lost my mind). But, I really wanted to drop there and pray, pray for all those unbelievers, scandal-inducers, lost souls, misguided believers and evil-doers. I realized this was my opportunity to fight back against the madness. I had the power to beg God’s mercy for myself and the whole world.
Truly, it is a Good day this Friday. Each year it opens the doorway to history and allows us to go deeper in our journey. It destroys hopelessness, pours out mercy and prepares us for what is to come on the third day. How can we immerse ourselves, our whole selves, in the intense joy of Easter without first discovering the power of the crucifixion which proceeded it? It is in witnessing the total self-sacrifice of Jesus on that instrument of torture that we can begin to understand (although never fully) the breadth and depth of His love for us all and the resurrecting power of His mercy.