I’m going to be honest, I sometimes think that Easter comes too early.
Well, I don’t mean too early as in too early in the calendar year (I could have used the break a few weeks ago!) but I sometimes feel that that the Easter Vigil comes too quickly. Good Friday is possibly my favorite liturgical service of the year (with the Easter Vigil a close second) and I sometimes wish to have the opportunity to savor Good Friday more. It’s a strange idea I guess but there always seems to be a rush to Easter. There’s a need to dress the church for the big reveal, not to re-enact what happened 2000 years ago, but rather to proclaim what the church should always proclaim: that Christ is Risen, here and now. Lilies need to be bought and placed around the altar. Candles need to be prepared. Baptism candidates need to buy new white clothes. The wooden cross that is brought into the hall is quickly replaced with the movement towards the resurrection. And I understand why that happens; I get it. But sometimes, it just feels too fast. And I think I feel that way because the Good Friday liturgy has always grounded Christ in Jesus for me. The Good Friday has always made Christ feel more real, more human, and seems to liturgically proclaim Christ’s dual-natures in a way that is only matched by the Christmas Eve Vigil (depending on the church of course).
Good Friday helps me to grab onto and lay witness to a human Christ in the midst of suffering; a Christ who is human not because he was only flesh and blood but because he lived as a human, breathed as a human, walked, talked, wept, ate, hungered, and suffered like a human. Jesus of Nazareth – the crucified one – is here a lived experience, a true human being. For me, abstract Christologies languish under the liturgy of Good Friday. And human life isn’t necessarily one where the suffering is restored only a moment later. Sometimes the suffering lingers. Sometimes the suffering appears as if it will have no end. So I worry that the rush to Easter will miss Christ in by pushing past Jesus’ humanity and head straight into the ascension.
If this sounds a tad confused, or if it sounds like I’m missing a few things, it’s because this has been running through my head for awhile and, the closer holy week became, the more overloaded with material I became. Now, right before the beginning of the three days, my head feels a tad full and I’m sure these thoughts are starting to come out my ears. But I just can’t seem to come to an entirely comfortable place with this quite yet.
For my introduction to liturgy class, we will be attending a paschal retreat in a few weeks where we will do the Three Days liturgy in one day. It will be held in an old lutheran church and I will cantor Psalm 22 during the Good Friday part of the day. This week, in my Old Testament course, we just so happened to talk about Psalm 22. My professor brought up the idea that, since the Psalms were Jesus’ prayer book, Jesus’ use of “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” is not just one line but a reference to the entire Psalm. The Psalm is one of abandonment, of suffering, and of a transition into a restoration that is not elaborated or explained. The restoration just happens. There is a tension inherent in the text at this point and this tension is engulfed by silence. The pleading turns to thanksgiving, the description of death turns into a boasting of life. To quote a professor, “It’s gorgeous.” But I worry about that silence. I worry that, if it is ignored, skipped, or pushed through, that the prior 2/3rds of the Psalm will be forgotten. I worry that getting to the resurrection before the cross is a problem. And that silence, that transition – a transition that comes in the middle of a verse in the NRSV – if it’s not paid attention to, part of the praxis of the church is lost.
I’m not really a fan of the idea of Jesus’ cry from the cross being read in light of the entire Psalm 22. I’ve heard it preached in such a way that abandonment of Jesus by God is ignored and we are pushed straight into the new dawn. And I get why that happens. I think it’s natural to want to get to that promised day as quickly as possible and to move past the suffering and into joy, health, and well being. Even though we live in that present day, our life in the world isn’t all roses and joy either. I think the suffering of Haiti, of Japan, of the countless marginalized people in the world, is a sign of our reality. I get that the realization of that hope is needed, wished for, desired, and wanted. In the midst of suffering, isn’t that what all want to be as quickly as possible? But what happens when it doesn’t come quick? What happens when that silence seems to last for much longer than a moment? What if we, our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends, our assembly are stuck in the middle of that verse? The hope for that transition is real and it’s part of our proclamation but I can easily see the restoration being spoken at the expense of the living with those in that silence. In this era of the Risen One, that hope is still there and it needs to be proclaimed and shouted from the roof tops. But it can’t become so loud that those in the silence, those who suffer, those who feel abandoned, those who are oppressed and persecuted, are left voiceless. I feel there’s a praxis in that moment of silence and in the liturgy of Good Friday that can easily be inadvertently overshadowed by the glitz and glam of Easter.