Good Friday is a demanding day for believers. We look at pictures of suffering at the Stations, we meditate on texts of terror at the afternoon liturgy. We speak – we mutter words that don’t say what we mean - about the trauma of it all.
In a way, we have been asked to move outside the range of our usual human experience. We have been asked to participate, in memory, in something too much for our ordinary adaptations of life. We have identified with the suffering and dying of Jesus, and they are beyond the usual capacity of our coping mechanisms to handle. They take us away from our here and now, and take us into another world, where we can’t go comfortably and can’t stay for long. Our hearts have taken us further than our normal understanding of everything. Something of the trauma Jesus suffered has become our own.
If you allow the image, I think the experience of Good Friday is a bit like being bitten by a snake. There is a text in Jn 3 – about the crucified Jesus – that picks up a motif from the Hebrew Bible, in which Moses lifts up a bronze serpent to cure people from something like snakebite. John sees Jesus crucified and lifted up on the cross as the fulfilment of this image. But the way we take part in Good Friday is for us more like the bite than the cure. In a way, I think we could say that after Good Friday we are all suffering from something like snakebite. It makes us numb. We need to be healed from the numbness that Good Friday leaves in us. There’s a peculiar ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ in all of us after Good Friday.
So do we say, ‘get over it’ and ‘put it behind you’. Easter is just around the corner, and we won’t have to ‘do’ Good Friday for another year? Yes, and no.
There are our own personal traumas too. Somehow Good Friday seems to wake them up and make them more acute. When they are awakened, they don’t go away for another year. We need healing.
Strong experiences that are not included in the normal flow of life don’t disappear. They just express themselves in strange ways…. They tend to repeat themselves, a bit compulsively. Even the healing is a bit off and on. We receive it, and lose it. We discover it, and mislay it. We wonder will we ever get past all this.
It’s like the renormalizing that troops need after combat exposure… What we need is a coherent narrative that includes where we have been but doesn’t make it the one and only thing that matters. What we need is a web of meaning in which we can locate Good Friday without thinking that the world ended then. What we need is a home base from and in which we can relate to what Good Friday has meant for us, while leaving open many other experiences than that one. We need shall we say a relational home for Good Friday.
‘I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit. You have heard my voice. Do not hide Your ear from my sighing, from my call for help. You drew near on the day I called on You, and You said, ‘Do not fear’.
(Lam 3, 55-57)
‘There comes a time when both body and soul
Enter into such a vast darkness
That one loses light and consciousness
And knows nothing more of God’s intimacy.
At such a time, when the light in the lantern burns out
The beauty of the lantern can no longer be seen,
With longing and distress we are reminded of our nothingness.
At such a time I pray to God:
“O God, the burden is too heavy for me!”
And God replies:
“I will take this burden first and clasp it to Myself
And that way you may more easily bear it….”
If God leaves me un-anointed, I can never recover.
Even if all the hills flowed with healing oils,
And all the waters contained healing powers,
And all the flowers and all the trees dripped with healing ointments,
Still, I could never recover.
“God, I will tear the heart of my soul in two
And you must lie therein.
You must lay yourself in the wounds of my soul.”
(Mechtild of Magdeburg, 1210-1285, The Flowing Light of the Godhead)
This is a kind of ‘burying’ Good Friday – or perhaps using it as a vacant tomb in which the God of Good Friday can come to rest, and we can too.
And this is why we need Easter. Not as compensation for Good Friday. But as a public, open, shareable, sense of our place in a larger world than Good Friday. It is a wider canvass. It is a deep satisfaction in the here and now, in my here and now, in our here and now, in our place in the world. Good Friday never stood alone. That is why we put Good Friday into the LARGER Paschal Mystery.
Somehow I am glad we have Holy Saturday before we come to the Resurrection…..
We need time, time to get a little more ready for our own Easter.