Earlier in my life, I used to look at calendars and see the words "Good Friday." I had no idea what it meant. My school never let out for this day. My church certainly knew nothing of this day. (Or if it knew, it did not pass this on! I'm sure someone knew, because one leader in our church had formerly belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.)
Now this day has become one of the most meaningful of the year.
I remember the first time I attended a Good Friday service. It was during the time of the Kosovo war. I was in the midst of remembering the war in Croatia, and beginning to remember and feel things I had not been able to remember and feel since we left Croatia. I was very aware of suffering, death, sin, injustice, and deep pain.
A friend invited to me to the Good Friday service. I went with no idea what to expect.
At that time, we attended a church that had "happy clappy" worship, as some call it. I found it increasingly difficulty to worship there. The emphasis on feeling good because of God's love seemed to have no place for what my heart was going through as I mourned, in my small way, the suffering of two nations. It seemed the only part of life acknowledged in that place was the triumph, the joy, the overcoming. The experiences of war and desolation and homelessness and hunger and inhumanity were never brought up.
So, I went to the Good Friday service with my friend. And for worship, we listened to, and sometimes read aloud together, the Word:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 -- "Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows."
Psalm 22:1-11 -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Hebrews 10:1-25 -- emphasizing the necessity of Christ's sacrifice because sin is so real
John 18:1-19:37 -- the long and painful story of Christ's death
We didn't lift our hands or clap or sway. We knelt. We kept much silence.
We prayed (among other things):
Let us pray for all who suffer and are afflicted in body or in mind;
For the hungry and the homeless, the destitute and the oppressed
For the sick, the wounded, and the crippled
For those in loneliness, fear, and anguish
For those who face tempatation, doubt, and despair
For the sorrowful and bereaved
For prisoners and captives, and those in mortal danger....
Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here was a way of worship that, to me, was much more in touch with reality than the cotton candy of our Sunday mornings. In touch with the reality of what happened 2000 years ago, and in touch with the reality of the suffering of the world we live in today.
Living in America as I do, I worry that we are often so out of touch with the larger world, that God cannot possibly use us to make a difference. And because we are so disconnected from suffering, we cannot begin to understand the suffering that God and Christ went through in order to save us.
We live in a culture that wants to medicate or ignore pain and suffering. But medicating and ignoring do not bring healing. Real medicine can heal, but painkillers don't heal. Sometimes our very worship can be more of a painkiller, or a mood alterer, than real medicine.
But Good Friday is good medicine. It reminds us that we are sick and in need of healing. We are sinners in need of saving.
And He did come to heal and to save. And that is what makes the horrible, sickening events of that day 2000 year ago good. It is truly Good Friday.
And Easter is not far away.