I sat beside my mother’s grave this morning. I don’t know how many years it has been since I’ve been there. Somehow it seemed appropriate, today of all days – the day when we celebrate (an odd word choice at first glance) the death of Jesus. I sat beside my mother’s grave and remembered. I sat there and missed her. I felt her absence, even there, because even though her body was buried there, SHE was no longer there.
As I think of death and bodies and absences, my mind turns again to today – Good Friday.
It seems difficult, if not impossible, to look back thousands of years, and imagine what that first “Good Friday” must have been – must have felt like – to the friends and family of the murdered man. I read the stories about the betrayal and death of Jesus from the perspective of the Resurrection. I look at Friday through the lens of Easter. And in doing so, I miss much of the pathos and the reality in what happened. In my mind, Jesus’ death has none of the power that my mom’s death had, or the deaths of my friends on the street. That’s because, in my mind, my mom and Miriam and Jeferson and Tiago and Everton’s deaths were all REAL. The effects are lasting. They are gone. I still miss them. Somehow, when seen only through Sunday’s events, Jesus’ death is transformed into something fake – a pretend death. But nothing could be further from the truth. Only when we enter into the brokenness and the anguish of that first Friday can we begin to understand the joy and hope of that Sunday.
On Friday, Jesus was dead. He was tortured. He was mocked. He was killed. He was dead. He stopped breathing. He stiffened up. His body grew cold. He was GONE. His loved ones watched, helpless. His mother and friends wept. They wept because they had lost their son, their friend, their brother, their hope. They believed, but their belief had betrayed them, left them hung out to dry.
Jesus’ lifeless body was taken from the cross. His stiffening corpse was carried to the tomb, prepared for burial, and then placed inside. Those who hadn’t run away in fear bent over and kissed his cold forehead with their warm lips as tears slid down their faces. When the tomb was shut, there was all the finality of the earth being thrown on my mother’s coffin, or the casket lid being tightened over Jeferson’s stillness. He was gone.
Feel the hopelessness. Savor the despair. Soak up the fear, the hurt, the betrayal, the numbness. For everything has changed. Where hope existed, now lies doubt. A few nights before, joy and love and laughter and life filled this room. Tonight, it is only ashes and dust, tears and mourning. His absence is everywhere. There is no escape. The vine has been ripped from the ground, and the branches are withered and dying. The shepherd has been killed and the sheep are scattered and helpless. The center could not hold.
This is the bitter cup of death. Jesus drank his own death down to the dregs. His friends, his disciples, drank it too. For each different, yet for each the agony and heartache and fear is the same. No one understood. All they knew was they missed him, and he was gone. Everything had changed.