Friday, April 06, 2007

Happy Good Friday

My daughter just woke up. On her way back from the bathroom, she said, "Happy Good Friday, Mom."

Eliza has Down syndrome. I've always hated the upbeat generalizations people often make about individuals with Down syndrome: "They are such happy children" or "They love music." But I have to admit--heck, I'd even brag--that Eliza's intellectual disability makes her remarkably clear-sighted at times. Today is an occasion, and Eliza loves occasions: happy birthday, happy anniversary, happy Good Friday.

So far, it has been a happy Good Friday. It started early in my household. I drove my fourteen-year-old son to church at 6:15 this morning. The Youth Director challenges the teens to show up for the 6:30 a.m. worship service on Good Friday. Then he takes them to the Original House of Pancakes for breakfast. Kurt donned a dark suit, a black shirt and tie, and extremely cool sunglasses for the occasion. He was dressing up because at noon, he will part of a choir of adults singing Richard Hillert's setting of the St. John Passion. It's a good thing it was not fully light when we left the house, because I was fighting back a smile as I looked at this kid in his aviator sunglasses. Being fourteen, he would not have appreciated my grin.

I came back home, read the New York Times online, and mixed and kneaded the dough for cinnamon rolls, which will make me a hero to college-age son, home for the weekend. He will probably wake up around noon, when those rolls come out of the oven.

Happy Good Friday.

"It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him." (Mark 15:25) That would be right about now, when the sun is climbing in the sky, and a busy day is going into full swing. What did those citizens of Jerusalem, up and about and doing their pre-Sabbath errands, think of this Galilean dragging a cross through the streets? They joined the soldiers in charge as they mocked and derided Jesus. Probably it was all in a day's life on the streets in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Whatever the people may have heard of this man, Jesus--miracles, preaching--was now just another tale come to naught. Who could have known that this crucifixion would immortalize the cross as a symbol of God's compassion for his wayward creatures?

Darkness came over the land at noon, and lasted until three o'clock. Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and then breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two, a curious detail reported in Matthew, Mark and Luke. John doesn't say anything about the temple, but the pierced side detail comes from John, with blood and water flowing from the dead body of our Savior.

We relive Jesus' suffering and death in worship services, devotions, private thoughts, but at the same time we bake the coffee cake, order the lily, iron the outfit, and rehearse the music in preparation for Easter. Meaningless rituals? Remnants of pagan celebrations of spring? Or something about life and death and God's power over all things?

The day before yesterday--Wednesday--I went to two funerals. Actually, a funeral, and a memorial service held almost three weeks after the death of my sister-in-law. For me, it was a day to be gotten through, to be polite, to serve and to be served. Thinking too much brought grief and questions, and this was a day for self-control.

The funeral was a hymn-filled 11:00 a.m. church service, thanking God for the life of a ninety-year-old woman, who a few days earlier, after a life filled with Christian service, had chosen hospice and the end of dialysis, looking forward to Christ welcoming her into heaven. We sang her casket down the aisle and off to the cemetery with the final stanza of "O Day Full of Grace," the one that begins "When we on that final journey go." The funeral luncheon was ham and cornflake-topped potatoes, three-bean salad, fruit, and pink lemonade. A foretaste of Easter and a celebration of old-fasioned church hospitality.

The memorial service was much sadder. My sister-in-law died of cervical cancer, two weeks after diagnosis. Her husband held her until the crash cart came into the room and the medical personnel asked him to leave. Her last words to him were "I'm scared." I am not close to my brother-in-law (my husband's brother) and barely knew my sister-in-law. Yet this is a loss that is hard to comprehend. At the memorial service, my brother-in-law played a video of snapshots of his wife, with Kris Kristofferson on the soundtrack singing "Look at that old photograph, is it really you?" My job at the service was to speak grace and comfort, singing "Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home."

We commend the spirits of our dead to a God who died. We prepare for the new life of Easter.

Happy Good Friday.

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