It is noon, and I am sitting in the last pew, in the back of the church.
I am here because it is Good Friday. I do not have any deep thoughts. I do not vividly imagine myself at Golgotha. I am here because on this day I need to do something. So, I sit here quietly.
The light was darkened and Christ hung dying during this time, noon to three p.m. My presence here doesn’t change that or add to that. My being here is not a great witness to many people. It is a quiet witness, seen only by You, Lord. I need to do something, so here I am.
My being here will accomplish nothing. For many, I am wasting my time. Yet, this is where I want to be. It is that simple. I do not expect great revelations or deep spiritual experiences. I am not here for that. I am here, doing nothing this Good Friday, for it is all I know to do, and I do it for Jesus’ sake. If You can die for me, I can sit here, alone in this church for three hours, for You. My presence here is my way of inarticulately saying “thank you.”
I do this feeling nothing. I feel as though I should have deep feelings, that my recollection of your death should stir deep emotions. But no. I sit here, feeling nothing, yet I sense my sitting here is enough. This is my way of remembering, and I’m doing it with my body more than with my emotions.
Lord, I feel your pleasure in my being here.
You died alone. It is thus fitting that I sit here, in this church, alone. There were no “Hosannas” for you on this day. Your friends were gone and your disciples in hiding. It is fitting that I sit here, alone. Through this I participate in your loneliness. Through this, in a small way, I enter into it.
How brightly shines the brass cross on the Communion table. A fitting memorial, especially on this day. But, your cross wasn’t bright and shining like this memorial of it. Yours was dark, wooden and splintery. It was meant to hold your weight and slowly kill you, providing a cautionary spectacle of degradation and humiliation to passersby, your messianic kingship now serving as mockery.
I am not, sitting here, humiliated and degraded. Yet, my being here honors what you experienced. Although I feel nothing I am here, and I am with You. What You experienced from others that day matters to me. If I can’t feel humiliated with you, I can be here, in honor if your humiliation.
* * *
I find myself wondering, how much longer I have to be here. What is the time now?
* * *
I don’t do a good job of sitting here. My mind wanders. I feel an urgency to do nothing in particular. I anticipate the future at the expense of the present moment. Where do I have to go, or what do I have to do later this afternoon? I bring myself back to this moment, resisting the urge to look at my watch.
I wonder, when you were hanging under a darkened sky, if you anticipated the future–and, if so, were you anticipating death as an end to your suffering, or something greater and grander? What does one anticipate who cries out the Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I sneak a look at my watch. Almost an hour has gone by.
* * *
I remember, as a boy, when churches were filled with people on this day. I remember dad taking me to Southern California Good Friday services several times, at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, at Church of the Open Door, and at our own church, Pasadena Covenant. At all these churches, there would be a series of services between noon and three which featured music, a hymn or two, and meditations or short sermons on the seven last words. There was a significant number of people at each part of this service (or at each of the separate services, depending on how you look at it).
In this simple way, I was taught as a boy that this day is important. What I remember most, now, was the solemnity of it. There was a stillness in the church that I didn’t notice at regular Sunday services. Despite the Southern California sunlight shining through the stained glass, I was aware of the mid-day shadows. What happened on this day mattered, I learned. Because of that this Good Friday, now, matters.
If we are not taught about Good Friday’s cross, if we are given no means of entering into that day, how can it matter to us? We give lip service to being “born again” or to being baptized, but we have come to avoid Good Friday and what it represents. “Jesus did it all” we think, and so don’t ponder the mystery, how our sin becomes his and our judgment his, and where we are reduced to grateful love by the God who suffers, dies, and is raised. The cross has become an ancient equation whereby we reckon ourselves forgiven to go about our business. We look past Good Friday to Sunday’s Easter eggs. We have forgotten that we have been baptized into your death. We are glib, and mistake it for joy.
Lord, thank you that I am sitting here, alone. Thank you that doing nothing here in your presence is better than doing anything else. Thank you, for those who saw to it so many years ago that I would be sitting here now, with you.
* * *
Writing this has been and is an exercise in being more fully aware of what my being here means. To write one’s thoughts is to think them more deeply, to understand them more thoroughly. It helps me sit here, and makes me alive both to this Good Friday, and to That One.
Yet, to write as I am writing here–is this writing for me, or for someone else? Or does that question even matter? If the act of writing enables me to be here, maybe it will enable others to be here as well.
* * *
It is good to be here, Lord, for this is all I can manage–to show up here and sit, while you die. I have nothing to say that adds to your death, and there is nothing I can do to make it more vividly real. The fantasies and images of my imagination are merely a distraction. I am here as a friend, helpless to prevent the death that is coming, yet out of love for you, I must be here. I must be present, and this is the only way I know how to be present to You this day.
And yet, I am not here merely as a mourner. I see up, through the deep chasm of death and abandonment to the far side, which is all the more beautiful and joyfully hopeful for seeing it from the depth of this side of the dark chasm of this day.
Can there be real, joyful hope without first knowing crushing despair? Can we truly appreciate life apart from knowing death? I think not. The road to the heights must take us first to the depths. It is there, in the depths, that You develop a capacity for joy and hope and life eternal within us. “To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace,” Paul tells us. The source of the Spirit is the crucified Jesus, for “we were buried with him by baptism into his death” that we might be raised with him (Romans 6:3-4).
True coming to Christ entails coming to his Good Friday death, and joining him through the washing waters of baptism and so into a new birth into a living hope.
Christ has died and I have died with him. That’s why I sit here today. I have died with him, and yet I live, and I live anticipating an even greater and grander life, a participation in the divine nature.
I have died with Christ, and so I sit alone in an empty church today, joined occasionally by a few others, who sense in their soul’s depths the depths of this day. I sit here sensing that I am sitting in the still, small point around which all things circle and converge. To be here, this day, is to sit peering into the center of all things. Nothing happens, yet everything has happened, and everything has changed. “It is finished,” Jesus cried out, and so it is. Nothing can be added to this death, and nothing taken from it. His death is a monolithic achievement we see and don’t see, the love of God a sin-blinded world cannot see with its own eyes. Truly, nothing can, now, separate us from the love of God other than our own hard-hearted indifference and arrogance.
* * *
“It is finished,” Christ cries, and all human life and striving is caught up in these words. Now, something new has happened and will be seen in the dawn light of the first day of the week. Now, heaven has come to earth, and earth taken up into heaven, so that the world, some day, really will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
Yet, there are seemingly so few who see this–so few who sit alone with Christ in empty, Good Friday churches and ponder what happened in the darkness at Golgotha. So few that truly know they have been crucified with Christ.
I will continue to sit here this afternoon until the end, for I know I have been crucified with Christ, and have no place else to go. The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, and so I have no place else to go. And, because this Son of God loved me and gave himself for me, I have no place else to go.
This is my record of sitting alone with the crucified Jesus on this Good Friday, April 14, 2017. This is my gift of three hours.
It is not an impressive gift.
Thank You, that it doesn’t have to be.