Good Friday is a long night. Good Friday is a long night dominated by grief and passion. Good Friday is a solemn start to a glorious weekend.
We all know the joy we are going to feel Easter morning. In about 36 hours, we are going to be right here again. We’ll be ringing bells and proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. We know what’s going to happen.
But tonight, we take the time and space to remember what it was like for those followers of Jesus who didn’t know what was going to happen. We remember what it was like for them on that fateful Friday in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. They didn’t know Easter was coming. They didn’t know they would find the stone rolled away from the tomb, they didn’t know they would find folded linen, they didn’t know Jesus was going to come back.
All they knew was that after years of witnessing countless miracles, teachings, healings, feedings… Jesus was dead. Dead. Not just wounded or away on a mountainside, just dead like a plain old human being, and seemingly gone forever.
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqLiH7AyU9A
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen[i]
I’ve been thinking a lot this past year about the prevalence of shame in our society. While I cannot remember my first encounter with shame, I can recall many instances of it throughout my life; moments that have been seared into my memory by the branding iron of trauma. From being bullied by older boys in the changing room at the local YMCA while participating in an after-school swimming program in elementary school—to being unable to finish my college degree as a result in part of a learning disability that eluded me until only three years ago—shame has been a regular character in the drama of my life, lurking behind the curtain until its cue to enter and take center stage. Shame manifests in my mind like evidence presented to a jury in a court of law, which after a very brief deliberation declares the devastating judgement, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Or, to put it simply: you are not enough.
In her book Daring Greatly, self-proclaimed ‘shame researcher’ Brené Brown defines this emotion as: the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.[ii] While you may not remember your maiden voyage on the sea of shame, my bet is that like me, you are able to recall instances of it throughout your lifetime. Brown goes on to say that we all experience the emotion of shame. And, even though it is universal, we are reluctant to talk about it.[iii] The insidious nature of shame insures that we dare not speak its name, giving it time to metastasize like cancer cells, breaking free from its injurious ‘ground zero’ and spreading throughout our lived experience.
Similarly, like cancer, the longer it roams free, the further out of control it becomes. The loss of innocence to shame often results in the learned skill of taming this wild beast and wielding it as a weapon to our advantage through the instilling of fear in another. So fluent are we all in the language of shame that often times our employing of it is not intentional. Shame can be used as a method of motivation to steer others from engaging in behaviors we find questionable, unacceptable, or dangerous according to our own lived experience, which can be skewed because of our own experience of being shamed. Shame begets shame, fear begets fear. When we force shame upon others, we rob them of their dignity as we venture to recreate them in our own image. Brown continues, “Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution.”[iv] Forcing a square peg into a round hole will damage the integrity of both.
In John’s account of Jesus’ passion, we observe a first-hand account of the destructive nature of shame. We watch as Jesus is abandoned by all but a handful of those close to him. We see Jesus as he is stripped of his clothes and his dignity; mocked, scourged, and spit upon. We stand with Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple at the foot his cross, gazing at His body: bruised, bleeding, and naked. Perhaps, it is in gazing at Jesus nakedness that we harken to another place and time: a garden where we hid ourselves in shame, hearing the voice of our creator asking, “Who told you that you were naked?” Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”[v] It is in this garden, called Eden, that we encounter our first experience of the shame that is so difficult to remember. The trauma experienced here was not the result of forbidden fruit, eaten and digested, but through the seductive language of shame: Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden? You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’[vi] Or, once again to put it simply: you are not enough.
It was then that we observed God’s first acts of mercy. God clothes the man and woman and then says, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.’[vii] The expulsion from Eden was an act of mercy, lest humanity live in perpetual shame.
The gospel news of the cross is that God took on our human nature in the face of Jesus and endured the shame of the cross for our sake. It is in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that God restored our nature, giving us the ability to stare shame in the face and eradicate it with a different language: the language of love.
But, we do have to face the cross as Jesus did. We have to summon the courage with God’s help to face what we know to be true, that we are worthy of love and belonging, that we are enough. How is it that you know shame? What is your experience of being weighed in the balance and found wanting? How have you wielded shame as a weapon for the sake of self-preservation? Who has been a source of shame for you in your life? In a few moments, we will have the opportunity to venerate the cross. As you approach, bring your shame, your experience of not being enough, your struggle for control, or the shame you’ve felt at another’s hands; and as you kiss the cross, imagine that shame being nailed to the cross and know that in Jesus victory over death, that shame will be transfigured. For those of you joining us online, you may want to take a cross you have in your household, pull an image of a cross on your screen, draw a cross, or simply pick a brother to enact the veneration for you.
I close with words from Hymn 162:
O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear
Gone is thy shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the King of glory now.
Blest tree, whose chosen branches bore
The wealth that did the world restore,
The price which none but he could pay
To spoil the spoiler of his prey.[viii]
Lectionary Year/Proper: Year One
Solemnity or Major Feast: Good Friday
[i] Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, Book of Common Prayer, p. 220
[ii] Brown Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. Avery, 2015.
[v] Genesis 3:11
[vi] Genesis 3:1-5
[vii] Genesis 3:22-24
[viii] Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (540?-600?); ver. Hymnal 1982
Why is Good Friday called ‘Good’? This is not a new question. If you do a Google search you will find a supply of answers to this question with no certainty landing on any of them. One explanation is that the title is unique to the English language and is derived from the old English designation, ‘God’s Friday.’[i] In catholic teaching, good is congruent with the word holy. This sounds right considering the sacredness of the Paschal Triduum, the three days leading to the Great Vigil of Easter which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Growing up in an Evangelical tradition of the church, I was taught early on that it was good because of the salvation wrought for us by Jesus dying on the cross.
To be honest, all of these feel right to me. But it is the third explanation, the one I grew up with, that grabs my attention. Mainly, this is because of the paradoxical nature of the idea that someone undergoing torture, pain, and death, is considered good. This is what we hear in our gospel text from John this evening. Jesus and his disciples go across the Kidron Valley to a garden, identified in the other synoptic gospels as Gethsemane, where they say he prayed earnestly while his disciples slept, unaware of the intense situation that was about to unfold. Jesus is betrayed by Judas, a member of his circle of friends, and taken to be questioned by the high priest Caiaphas where he was then subjected to abuse. Jesus interpretation of the Law as well has his claim of God as his father was considered blasphemy. The fact that people were beginning to follow Jesus challenged the power and authority of the Temple leaders. They take him to Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Roman province of Judea, to be tried and convicted as a criminal. Using mob tactics, the Temple leaders not only rile up the crowd, but insist that if Pilate does not sentence Jesus to death, he will be seen in the eyes of Rome to be disloyal to the emperor Caesar, which would place him in grave danger.
“It is finished.”[i]
Logically, there should be no more to say. “It is finished.” The altar is naked, the flame extinguished, the holy water dried up.
And yet, we linger here where powerful truths have been expressed and ineffable mysteries suggested.
The Truth: that the Love of God risks everything, forsakes all sense, abandons natural order, acts contrary to human expectation. We read in this truth the voluntary self-gift of God’s only-begotten Son “into the hands of sinners” that he fashioned from clay.
And the Truth: that the Love of God can – and shall – convert every instrument of death that cruel humans can invent into a key that opens the door to Life. We read this truth in the Cross that bore his Body.
And the Truth: that the Love of God endures the worst imaginable suffering. Through this, not in spite of this, as a ray of light pierces the darkest storm cloud, God’s glory is made manifest. We read this truth in the flesh of Jesus Christ: beaten, bleeding, broken, dying…drawing all people to himself.
"What is your lament today? What is your suffering? What pain of others weighs on you? Words are not necessary. Perhaps you need a break from them. Gaze at something broken. Shake your fists. Stomp your feet. Groan. Roar. Cry. God hears you. Take a deep breath. Lie down and feel your body fully supported. In the shadows with Jesus, cry out with trouble and trust." – Br. Luke Ditewig
Good Friday marks the second day of the Triduum (from the Latin for ‘three days’), the day on which we commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and death.
The worship offered at the Monastery is in fact a continuation of the liturgy begun last night and it will not ‘end’ until the Great Vigil of Easter. The vesture of the sacred ministers is deep red, accented with black, recalling the solemnity and sobriety of the day, and the Gospel according to John is chanted to an ancient tone, which you can hear below.
The liturgy crests as a cross is carried in and venerated by the gathered congregation. All depart in silence to the awkward waiting of Holy Saturday and the restrained anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter.
How will you stand beside Jesus in his hour of greatest need?
- The Passion Gospel According to John, sung on an ancient tone
- The Solemn Collects
- Psalm 40
- “Christ became obedient”
- Plainsong Anthems sung by the Schola (We glory in your cross; We adore you, O Christ; O Savior of the world)
- A collection of Hymns sung by the Schola (Jesus keep me near the cross; When Jesus came to Golgotha; When Jesus wept; Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow)
- Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
- And now, O Father, mindful of the love
- Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
- Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat
- My Faith Looks up to Thee
- Were you there when they crucified the Lord?
- "Gone is thy Shame" – Br. Jim Woodrum
On Good Friday, Br. Jim Woodrum invites us to leave our shame at the foot of the cross.
- "Finding the Goodness in Good Friday" – Br. Jim Woodrum
During a Holy Week when there is so much to mourn, Br. Jim Woodrum explores what is "good" about Good Friday.
- "Faith in a Seed" – Br. Nicholas Bartoli
On Good Friday, Br. Nicholas Bartoli invites us to enter into the paschal mystery as it unfolds for us now, letting our fear be buried with Jesus, to rise with him in new life.
- "Look at Love" – Br. Luke Ditewig
Would you rather turn away from the Cross? Br. Luke encourages us, "Admit your fear or grief or confusion, your guilt and shame." And look at love on the Cross.
- "Life out of Death" – Br. Curtis Almquist
We are not spared the experience of the cross, we are shared the experience. And the only way to survive the many deaths of this life is to surrender to Christ, taking him at his word: that life comes out of death.
- "Love Upon a Cross" – Br. David Vryhof
We have been captured by this love, smitten and overwhelmed by this love, changed and transformed by this love. And how could it not be?
- "Life By His Death" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our greatest hope in Jesus is that however dark the day, even as dark as Good Friday, we can look in confidence and trust to the cross. “For he hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”
A musical selection from this year’s Holy Week liturgies.
- Psalm 40
- “Christ became obedient”
- The Passion Gospel
- Plainsong Anthems sung by the Schola
- A collection of Hymns sung by the Schola
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended
Three Plainsong Anthems (We glory in your cross; We adore you, O Christ; O Savior of the world)
Four American Hymns (Jesus keep me near the cross; When Jesus came to Golgotha; When Jesus wept; Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow)
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
And now, O Father, mindful of the love
Were you there?
Br. Jim Woodrum (Narrator)
Andrew Sinnes, SSJE Intern (Jesus)
Noah Van Niel (Pontius Pilate, the crowd, and other voices)
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.
It was not because Jesus was oblivious to pain that enabled him to undergo such cruelty. It was because he knew the depth of human grief and loss and despair. And he knew that, because he loved.
– Br. James Koester
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
Video not displaying? Click here to view: https://youtu.be/yekhlcwk4S4
Question for Reflection:
Will you ask God to transform your suffering into greater love?