Several years ago I was asked by a pastor to come and take the whole of the Good Friday service at his church. I was a bit surprised at the invitation, because it was a rather large congregation, and fairly upbeat. I happily accepted the invitation, and took it as an honour that I would be entrusted to lead the congregation into such a difficult and delicate observance.

As I understand it, generally speaking, the season of Advent can be described as an ascent to light, whereas the season of Lent can be described as a descent into darkness. Good Friday ironically named, is the terrible and  disorienting day when the ‘treachery of men’ and the ‘blackest ingratitude’ seem to all but swallow whole our hopes for a brighter morning.  It is a day when we liturgically re-harrow the reality of our losses, deepest disappointments and sinful complicity in all that is unholy and unhealthy.

Good Friday is also the day when, as our faith teaches, Christ collected all the world’s sorrow and sin, and bore them to the grave.

It is about death. Dead death. This is something that we feel in our bones, because no matter how lavishly we live in order to mask and perfume its stench, we know death is inescapable and we fear that it may yet be, quite possibly, the last word on our lives.

Now… I know Easter Sunday is coming, as does anyone familiar with the story. But this day, Good Friday, is the day we set aside to feel the agonizing and desperate loss that preceeds resurrection; if nothing else, to prayerfully and compassionately commiserate in solidarity with those who have no such hope.

In selecting songs for my contribution,  I took the day seriously, and began with lighthearted songs and stories, then gradually descended toward those sorts of stories and songs that reveal, and give voice to,  the darkness we know in our experience.  And then I ended there… wanting to leave folks in that place: to wait, and to feel, and to pray, until the light of Easter would dawn two days later.

However, the pastor (a very fine fellow btw) was uncomfortable with me ending there. He jumped to the stage and quickly encouraged the audience into an ovation, asking for one more song. As I took to the stage he turned to me and whispered, “pick it up a bit…”.   So in childish protest, I ended with Paul Simon’s Feeling Groovy. No one but my wide-eyed wife seemed to know what I had just done.  Everyone else seemed visibly relieved to be returned to a cheerful place.

It was wrong of me to do what I did. I did it from an uncharitable spirit, and I felt bad about it for the rest of the weekend – and even still. But it did highlight for me just how uncomfortable we are with this story of a Saviour who first says “follow me” then dies dead to absorb and dissipate the darkness that beleaguers us all. The first century folks, who experienced the story in real time, didn’t have the luxury of knowing where it was going. Neither do so many today. This, of all days, is a day to come alongside the desperate who can’t quite imagine a resurrection in either the temporal or the eternal realm. It is a day to pray for those who can’t pray for themselves. And it is a day for fearless moral inventory, acknowledging truthfully our complicity in the very things that make for our own and other’s sorrows.   And this place is a place where we must wait patiently, unhurriedly. Because after all, the best chance we have to witness a resurrection… is from a graveyard.

 afternote: Since I posted this, I’ve recieved a couple of friendly, but chiding emails suggesting it is unfair of me to impose only one function on this particular day – that there may well be several legitimate ways of observing it. Certinly.  And I’m sorry for suggesting otherwise.  But I do think that given the death-denying culture we live in, it is probaby ok if the church sits in the dark from time to time, compassionately, with those who know little else. When we rush too quickly from Good Friday to Easter, we don’t let the tradition do it’s good work.  Anyway – certainly, no disrespect was meant for the pastor in the above story, who is much beloved, and for good reason.

Gone is the Light  
Music and lyric by Gord Johnson
appears on Steve Bell’s Devotion album (see below)

Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light
Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light

Jesus remember me
When you enter your Kingdom
Jesus remember me
When your kingdom comes

Father forgive them
They know not what they do
Father forgive them
They know not what they do

Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light
Into the darkness we must go
Gone gone is the light

_______________________________________

Album: Devotion

Gone is the Light can be found on Steve Bell’s Devotion CD, which can be previewed and purchased HERE…

 

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