A couple of years ago I spent part of Good Friday visiting my mom’s grave. It was one of those spring days that are so ridiculously over the top that you feel like someone is playing tricks on you: fresh cut grass, brilliant sun shining, breeze wafting through the tombstones… It always seems strange to remember someone who was so alive, in such a place full of life and beauty, while being aware that she is dead. I hadn’t been back in years – but that morning, I sat by her grave and remembered. I relived stories, laughter, hopes and dreams. I remembered the things that made her happy, that made her angry, that made her cry… And in the remembering, I felt more aware than ever of her absence because even though her body is buried there, all that made her who she was is no longer there. She is gone. She is dead.
I remember lying on my couch in my apartment in the favela one blazing hot afternoon. I was on the internet doing something meaningless when Rich started pounding on my door. Something was wrong. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but Jeferson is dead. He’s been killed. Murdered.” There’s really no easy way to tell someone. And my response – disbelief, shock, amazement, anger, grief – a heady cocktail that deadened my world and shut down my senses and closed possibilities. It was anti-hope. Laughing, smiling, dancing, singing Jeferson was no longer there. He is gone. He is dead.
I think of the disciples – Jesus’ closest friends and companions who had bet everything on Jesus, and who loved him deeply. They had traveled with him, walked with him through heat and cold, laughed at stories around campfires, worshipped in the synagogue together, and shared joys and hardships with him for over 3 years. I think of Jesus’ mother – she who bore this baby, and raised him, trained him, saw him learn to walk and talk, to share and play with others, learn compassion and love… And on today, Good Friday, they saw him killed.
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 of what happened. In my mind, Jesus’ death does not have 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 will never see them on the beach of Rio, laughing in the cordilleras of Peru, or sharing a meal in my home. 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. The blood coagulated in pools. Rigor mortis set in. Bacteria began the work of decomposing his body. 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.
Belief – faith – love… All these things leave us open to disappointment – to betrayal – to rejection – to the failure of our dreams to come true, and having to come to terms with the reality that what we had hoped for just isn’t going to happen. I think of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as they spoke (unknowingly) with the risen Jesus, saying “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel…” We had hoped… but now we know better. We had hoped… but now we are disappointed, and trying to go back to our own lives. We had hoped… and all our hopes have turned to dust.
Jesus’ lifeless body was taken from the cross. His stiffening corpse was carried to the tomb, prepared for burial, and then placed inside. Those few 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. Last night, joy and love and laughter and life filled this upper room. Last night, bread and wine and words of love gave light, and sparked hope once more.
But tonight, it is only ashes and dust, tears and mourning. He is dead. 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. He absorbed the pain and the evil of the world, and offered forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing…” And then he died.
His friends, his disciples, drank that cup of death and fear. For each one it was 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.
(modified from an older post I wrote back in 2006…)