Yesterday, in the hall of the large lovely global ad agency in Chicago that employs me, as I passed a guy I work with, who was clearly slinking out of the office early, he said to me, with a jovial, good old boy chortle, “3 o’clock Good Friday. Time to start drinking.”
What came out of my mouth in my attempt at a light-hearted rejoinder was something like, “That is why Jesus died on the cross, I guess…”
He looked at me a little strangely as he headed out the door, like he had no idea whether I was trying to be funny, or trying to make him feel guilty.
I will admit, as soon as it popped out, it sounded odd, even to me. And I really had no idea what I meant by it. I think it was just hearing Good Friday reduced to an excuse to go drinking in the afternoon that caught me by surprise, jarred the “raised to be a good Southern Baptist girl” in me a little.
Not that I’m opposed to drinking on Good Friday.
It’s just that “a good reason to leave early to go drinking” seems to be all that is Good about this Friday to most of the people I work with. Or at least, to most of the ones who say anything. Religion/faith/God is not something we speak of much in our team rooms, or around conference tables, or when we linger in the kitchen area refilling our water bottles or waiting for a Lean Cuisine in the microwave. When I blurted out the phrase, “Jesus died on the cross” there, it seemed as out of place as if I had started speaking Klingon.
But I get it, I really do, how this whole Holy Week/Easter thing is kind of strange, even to people who check the little Christian box on any form that asks your religious preference. And to those who check any of the other boxes, it must seem like absolute Crazytown.
I am one of the ones who check the Christian box, though I do so reluctantly, wanting to add an addendum explaining what I mean by Christian, that I don’t see myself so much in the Crusades/Witch Hunt/Gay Bashing/My Way or the Highway/I Have A Corner On the Truth side of the definition of the term, and more on the Life More Abundantly side
But, even though I know it’s supposed to be the centerpiece of the faith, blah, blah blah, I’ve gotta say, even on my best Christiany sort of days, the whole Resurrection thing seems a bit ridiculous to me too. Ridiculous and absurd and silly to think that some guy dying on a cross 2000 plus years ago matters a hoot in my life today. Ridiculous to believe that this guy rose from the dead, came to life again, gave the finger to death, said, Na-na-na-na-na-na, can’t catch me, to the grave. And that whole event changes everything for all time.
It just kinda seems like a fairy tale you’d tell children. Except, hopefully leaving out the grizzlier parts.
And yet, I showed up last night at the Good Friday service at my church and I did it because, no matter how hard this story is to believe, I want to believe it.
Because I know we live in a world in which torture and death happen on a daily basis. Where 3-year-olds, babies, are sexually abused by older brothers while the parents hide their eyes. Where kids are fed a constant diet of shame, told they are worthless, stupid, too much, too little, not enough, and end up dead inside, like a house still standing, but with all the lights burnt out. A world where some people throw food away and others starve. A world where some of us spend more on one cup of coffee than others make doing hard labor for an entire week.
But I want to believe that death and injustice and steaming piles of CRAP don’t get the final say.
I want to believe in a life in which new life can happen.
And I kind of have to believe it, because I’ve seen it happen. That 3-year-old girl – I know her—and she’s been resurrected into a strong, beautiful, wise and loving woman. And a boy who was brought up on shame and told he was stupid and worthless from the day he was born, I sit across from him once a week in a therapy group and he’s one of the brightest, most insightful and clever people I know. So much of him has been buried for so long, but every week I see his stone rolled away another inch. In fact every week in therapy I feel a little like Mary, showing up at Jesus’ tomb at dawn (ok therapy starts at 7:30 a.m., which is not always dawn, but definitely dawn-ish) to witness these people who have been beat up and raped, whose hearts have been stomped into bloody pulps, and who were never loved and adored as they should have been, come alive again, little by little, shedding the grave clothes they’ve called home for too long.
Me, among them.
I have borne witness to these resurrections.
I also have been witness to those who help give birth to resurrections. Those who see seemingly insurmountable wrongs, places where crucifixions are going on unchecked, and rather than walk away or look away or feel powerless, they do crazy things to try to fix them. Like this guy Chuck who goes to my church — he’s 80 now and over 40 years ago he started a legal aid clinic in Cabrini Green, an infamous low income Chicago housing project – offering free legal services to those who needed them. The fresh starts, the new lives people have been given through the years because of him and the people who’ve gathered around to help him, literally number in the thousands.
Or like this group of people I know who are going to Africa next week to visit a village where our church has helped build a well and housing for teachers. The group is bringing soccer balls and maybe even harmonicas for the couple hundred kids that folks in our church have been sponsoring for several years, because they know that humans don’t live by bread and medicine and books alone, and that sometimes resurrection looks like kids kicking a soccer ball without a care in the world, if only for a moment, and blowing out screechy tunes on Hohner Blues Band Harmonicas in C.
At the end of the service last night, when we were all invited to come up, place a hand or rest a forehead on one of the crosses at the front of the sanctuary, to stand or kneel, to pray in whatever way we could, for all those who suffer, anywhere and everywhere, for those we know, those we don’t know, for our own suffering, too. I lowered my forehead to one of the crosses that had been laid on the floor, a four foot long plywood version, wrapped in this printed out copy of an icon of Jesus that someone on our church staff found on the internet, bless their hearts — the San Damiano Cross – the original said to be the one St. Francis of Assisi was praying in front of when he got his big wake up call from God. This holy icon was chosen based mostly on the fact that it was the highest resolution image the staff could find on short notice (I know this only because my husband is one of the pastors there, of course).
The absurdity of it all struck me once again. Believing in this story, trusting in resurrections. Ridiculous, really, me kneeling, placing my head on the open palm of the outstretched arm of some quick print Jesus nailed to a cross…I kinda felt like giggling. What was I doing? What did I hope to gain?
Bowed there, knees screaming, hoping my butt didn’t look too big to anyone who might be noticing, I suddenly thought of that line from a Carl Sandburg poem:
The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
Oh yes…so much of the time, I live a clenched fist life. Ready to defend, push away, strike first, protect myself, grab for what I can get, gripped by fear that there isn’t enough to go around.
Going to church, kneeling in “prayer” (which I put in quotes because most of the time it just feels like me talking to myself), believing that in some miraculous, indefinable, un-provable and yet incontrovertible way, there is hope for all those who suffer, healing for the brokenhearted, there is a power at work in the world, that we can be a part of, that transforms suffering and death, little by little, in ways we may not be able to even see, into something else, something gracefully, beautifully mended, believing in absurd resurrection, in life after all the deaths we face, all the deaths we sometimes even deal out…to me…that is like prying open that fist, one finger at a time.
After the service I ended up going out for drinks with a few folks. Most of us around the table were, well, shall we say, on the other side of 40, but there was a young man there, 24, a boy I’ve known since before he was born, and he has gone through a rough year, in the throes of figuring who he is and who he wants to be and how he wants to be living his life. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him last night that this is a process he will probably be going through repeatedly his entire life, and in fact, he should probably just get used to it…welcome to my world, etc. etc.) He has been facing the death of his childhood, and he hasn’t quite gotten to the full-on light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems like it’s beginning to feel to him at least like the tunnel is somewhere around the next bend. But last night he was drinking his beer and talking about really being aware of his own mortality for the first time, which is scary, but how sometimes it just helps him to be grateful, and to be generous with his own heart, generous with love. And I felt like once again, I was in the middle of a sacred space, seeing a fist unclench, I was witnessing the beginning of another resurrection. Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but I think if you’d been there, you might have seen it too.
So this is why I celebrate Good Friday and Easter. To acknowledge the pain, the darkness, the unanswerable questions, the deaths within us and around us, then to rest for a moment in the open arms of Jesus, or some reasonable facsimile thereof, and to believe that all is not lost, Sunday is coming, stones are going to roll away, maybe are even starting to roll away right now. This is why I will go to church tomorrow, that is what I will drink to when I take the cup on Easter Sunday, because I want to believe in ridiculous hope, in opening tombs, I want to live in as much gratitude and generous love as I can muster. And even though I don’t always have one, I believe that the open asking hand, ready and waiting, is the most crazy and most sane, and possibly most holy, choice I can ever make.
Services are at 9 and 11. Maybe I’ll see you there.