Saturday, April 23, 2011

News from the Vigil

I have good news.

Yesterday during the three hour meditation at church, I was reflecting on Jesus crying out to God from the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Sadder words have never been spoken. A more anguished cry I could not imagine. And for years now I have tried to understand how it could be that Jesus would be forsaken.

Good Friday has been for me, in the past, a day to meditate on my sins. I bring them to the foot of the cross and spend three mostly agonizing hours contemplating that the weight of them is partly what brought Jesus to hang on the tree. In Triduums past, the heaviness of my sin and the depth of my grief over His death has lingered long past the Easter Sunday service. It was like Lent sprawled beyond it's 40 days and seeped into the Easter season. One year it was nearly Pentecost before I got to feel the resurrection in my heart.

So it was strange, then, in the midst of a Good Friday service, to suddenly feel a sense of overwhelming joy. And stranger still that the joy would come from the words of Christ's agony on the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The joy was this: Jesus took upon himself the sins, hurts, anger and grief of the world. He carried these things with him onto the cross so that we could be forgiven, redeemed, set free. He became fully human in order to save us humans. And part of being human is to be forsaken by God. It is an integral part of the human experience. King David felt it. Job certainly felt it. Scripture is full of stories of men and women suffering because they feel forsaken by God. I can't explain why. I just know that there have been moments in my own life, even as a Christian, when I felt distant from God. Like he had slid far away, to a place where I could not follow.

A few years before becoming a Christian, a friend of mine died of a heroin overdose. I went to his funeral at a Catholic church in Providence. I was into the new age stuff at that point, and was having a hard time reconciling my grief for my friend's death with the sense that I was somehow supposed to feel peace knowing that he was in a better place. Imagine my relief, then, when the priest spoke of Jesus at Lazarus' graveside, weeping with Mary and Martha. Even Jesus, who understood that Lazarus was going to rise from the dead, was weeping in grief. My sweet Friend, whom I did not yet know, came to me in that darkened church and gave me permission to feel as grief stricken as I did.... no apologies, no trying to pretend I was too enlightened for grief. He sat with me and wept at the grave of my friend. Because Jesus was fully human, too... and cried right along with me.

Last year when the flood destroyed Nguyen's business, I spent several weeks feeling like I was supposed to be handling the whole thing better. I am a Christian, after all. I know that God has a plan and that he can redeem even the most difficult situations. So why was I in such pain, such anger, such helplessness? I cried so much... all the while having to listen to some of my Christian friends tell me that God had a plan for all of it. Sometimes it didn't feel that way. And knowing it didn't seem to help. In fact, sometimes their words felt like hollow shortcuts through my fear and pain... a way for them to avoid the unpleasant reality of my suffering.

Yesterday in the church, as we contemplated the last words of Christ before his death, I suddenly understood that even our Lord felt forsaken while he suffered.

Let me repeat that.

Our Lord felt forsaken on the cross.

And because he was fully human and came to earth to redeem us, his experience means something. It means that no matter how separated from God we might feel in our moments of grief or loss or anger, we are not alone in that. Jesus is there with us. He is experiencing it right along with us.

Which means we are never actually alone.

So maybe next time something happens that causes me grief, I will rest a little easier knowing that Jesus is truly there with me.

My sweet, sweet Friend. Even in your agony, you draw close to us. Even in your pain, you give so generously. Thank you my Beloved. In your suffering, Lord, ours is redeemed. I praise you and worship and love you. Lord, you have taken on the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.

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