Good Friday. It seems a strange name for the day Jesus was killed. It precedes Easter, of course, and I have been meditating more as well as pondering my faith: the who, what, where, how, why. Those events which happened so long ago. History.
As every Good Friday before, I have felt drawn to being alone, walking in silence without my camera, being prayerful, reading Scripture and feeling God with me. Fifty years ago shops closed at noon for at least three hours. Schools were closed for the day. People entered churches to pray. My family didn’t engage in frivolous entertainment or unnecessary work. We were respectful of the occasion, and a feeling of tender melancholy pervaded the house until night fell.
Earlier in the week I had other occasions to contemplate the business of living and dying, human life and God in our world, the often demanding work of loving one another when it can seem much easier to not even bother. About Jesus’ radical message–to love God with our all, to love each other in all we think, say and do. A tall order for me, that’s for certain.
Not a very consistent church-goer since my youth, I nonetheless searched for a church that felt right for years. Decades, really. I kept comparing each with the Midwest Methodist church of my growing up and finding each one wanting. The fellowship at my childhood church was far-reaching, reliable, helpful. The place itself and the music shared there were comforting, as well. I didn’t need a huge, fancy church run more on show and educated words than action. I have prayed for assistance in finding a down-to-earth, caring church, one where I fit and can be of service.
Then last summer I attended a creative percussion concert given at a church in city center. Though it always surprises me that a variety of concerts are in sanctuaries, I enjoyed the music. As I listened, I also admired the nineteenth century architecture, the richly carved woodwork and mammoth pipe organ. I liked being in that sanctuary. It called to me. Several people smiled at me; I thought some might be members of the congregation. I decided to return with my spouse.
It has turned out well. We’ve appreciated thoughtful sermons, the way people introduce themselves, the small but excellent choir. We’ve gamely learned new (Presbyterian) hymns. I found myself beginning to sing more easily. This in itself has been surprising, as I essentially lost my singing voice decades ago. As I hit the notes with more clarity and steadiness, I feel something “click” within.
I was soon invited to a women’s study group that meets weekly. It took a couple of months to finally get there, but when I arrived at the large group, I was greeted at the door and a spot was found for me in the circle. My name was asked; my responses heard. No one swamped me in an overeager manner. I was welcomed with kind acceptance despite not even knowing me yet. I have since participated in prayers, studied the materials and been part of enlightening exchanges of ideas. I appreciate this assemblage of women–their intelligent and critical thinking made mellow by deep yet ever-searching faith.
On Palm Sunday, my husband and I attended a brunch at the church’s retreat center. As we drove up the country road, light filled a beautiful forested setting. The attendees were still welcoming, the food delicious and bountiful. After feasting and chatting, we roamed some of the one hundred acres of meadow and woodland that parallels the Columbia River, amid the famed Columbia Gorge. I was struck by the labyrinth. I had fallen in love with Chartres Cathedral and the labyrinth when researching it for a college paper but I’d never gotten to see it. Yet a similar labyrinth was right before me to walk with my husband.
On the afternoon of Maundy Thursday (when Jesus was betrayed into the hands of soldiers) I again joined the women’s group. A minister shared part of what was to be the evening church service. He spoke of subtle meanings of communion, the breaking and sharing of bread and wine or grape juice when Jesus held the Last Supper for his disciples. The minister suggested when Jesus was telling them to “do this in remembrance of me”, he also was reminding the disciples to practice the new covenant: love one another. To accept and return God’s infinite love for us, to live the wisdom of his teachings, not only carry out a sacred religious ritual.
As the bread was passed around our circle, we tore off took a piece, then passed the loaf to the next woman; the same with the goblet in which each of us dipped our bread. The room grew in stillness beyond quiet words accompanying the Holy Supper. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as we, face-to-face, hand-to-hand, passed loaf and juice. I was deeply moved, my heart opened further, my soul enlivened. This was the experience with God and others I had sought. I felt this was what Jesus intended, that we give to one another and make a bridge with our belief. A conduit of eternal love from God through Christ to us. Then, that we take this with us into street, city, the worlds within which we each move day in, day out.
How can we call ourselves believers if our hands and feet are not powered by courageous caring in our homes, in our neighborhoods and communities? How can we honor God and make palpable our committment to share joy, practice forgiveness and use compassion as a resource if we do not use love as a tool to better this life?
Back in Judaea long ago Pontius Pilate, the governor, presided over a decision-making process before Passover that he suddenly found daunting. He found no fault in Jesus, yet the crowd demanded he be crucified and Barabbas, a notorious insurrectionist against Roman rule and a murderer, be freed as tradition required before Passover. Jesus’ widespread healings, compassionate but challenging teachings and his statement that he was the Son of God made him more dangerous.
And so he was crucified between two criminals, as was prophesied. I try to imagine his mother, Mary, and his devoted disciple, Mary Magdalene, in the stricken group of followers nearby. How did they cope with such loss, accept it as expected–this son who was human but also a teacher made for and of God’s Spirit?
Even as Jesus was dying on the cross, he charged Mary Magdalene with looking after his mother and his mother to do the same for his disciple. To love one another: his central message and commandment throughout his travels which ended on this earth.
(All photographs are this writer’s, protected by copyright.)