Good Friday 2016

a meditation preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI

March 25, 2016

The Rev. Gillian R. Barr

Today is not only Good Friday, it is also March 25th.  Which on the church calendar is the Feast of the Annunciation, the date on which we remember the angel Gabriel telling the young girl Mary that she would bear a child, and he would be named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins.  And she replied, “Let it be according to your word.”   These two observances coincide on the calendar only once every century or two, although church Tradition claims that they coincided on the first Good Friday—that Jesus died on the anniversary of his conception.  And this juxtaposition of Annunciation and Good Friday has frequently been the subject of poetry and art.  Here is one such image, which I find particularly evocative.

[1]GF 16 illustration annunc cruci in color

The angel Gabriel had visited her and Mary had said “Yes,” in such trust.  A first-time mother, she must have been overwhelmed at the challenges her new situation presented, but also filled with curiosity and hope and expectation.   All the feelings a first-time parent has—her heart expanding with her belly, imagining how this child will grow up, wondering what his personality will be like, what will become, what he will do.  In the months to come, pondering in her heart the words of Gabriel, and the words of the old prophet Simeon, who in the temple had proclaimed her infant son to be the Messiah but had also warned her that a sword would pierce her own heart. As Jesus grew, she poured herself into being his mother—with all the wonder and worry that involved.  Look at the peace and light and promise and life radiating out from the first half of that painting.

My favorite Christmas hymn, A Stable Lamp is Lighted (Hymnal 1982 #104) describes this same juxtaposition of birth and death, such that in other parishes which are more familiar with the tune, I’ve used it on Palm Sunday.

“A Stable Lamp is Lighted” (Richard Wilbur)

A stable lamp is lighted

Whose glow shall wake the sky

The stars shall bend their voices

And every stone shall cry

And every stone shall cry

And straw like gold will shine

A barn shall harbour heaven

A stall become a shrine

 

This child through David’s city

Will ride in triumph by

The palm shall strew its branches

And every stone shall cry

And every stone shall cry

Though heavy, dull and dumb

And lie within the roadway

To pave the Kingdom come

 

Yet He shall be forsaken

And yielded up to die

The sky shall groan and darken

And every stone shall cry

And every stone shall cry

For stony hearts of men

God’s blood upon the spearhead

God’s love refused again

 

But now as at the ending

The low is lifted high

The stars will bend their voices

And every stone shall cry

And every stone shall cry

In praises of the child

By whose descent among us

The worlds are reconciled

Thirty-some years after that first encounter with an angel, and the birth of all her hope and wonder, Mary finds herself standing at the foot of the cross, watching her beloved son die a horrible death.  Surely her heart was indeed pierced by a sword as he died.  As Jesus said, “It is finished,” Mary’s life must have felt finished as well.  All her hopes, visions, love, expectations joined the blood and water pouring out out of his side and soaking into the ground.

Mary’s life, and the life of her son, had come full circle—from tremendous blessing and optimism to agony and death.

Today we stand there at the foot of the Cross, as Jesus cries, “It is finished.” As Mary cradles the dead body of her son. We have each stood in similar places in our own lives.  With Mary and Jesus, we have found ourselves in places where hopes had once been born and been as rosy cheeked as that cherubic infant, but where death then appeared.   Where our once-hopeful “Let it be according to thy word!” turns to an agonized “It is finished” as our last bit of energy and effort pours out of us.   Perhaps it has happened in our work life.  Perhaps in our marriage. Perhaps it is when our self-image runs head-on into our frailty and weakness, and we find ourselves succumbing to temptations and engaging in actions we would have once said were far beneath us.

And we have found ourselves pouring all that we have in us, being absolutely passionate about a cause or a person, giving all that we have on another’s behalf, to no apparent effect. Perhaps as a public servant or activist or hard-working volunteer, striving to help others, but seeing the problems only get worse. Perhaps as we care for a loved one during an incurable illness. Perhaps as an adult child, watching an aging parent’s decline, or as a parent watching a child’s descent into addiction.  Perhaps as we begin to encounter our own mortality, as our bodies become less reliable and our faculties wane.

We know what it is to pour ourselves out in hope and love for someone, and to find ourselves almost literally dying as our efforts seemingly fail—and as we give up our spirit, gasping, “It is finished.”

At those times, we are at the foot of the cross.  And it is one of the many graces of this holy day that we know we are not alone there.   Because God is there with us.   In Christ God has been there, is there—there when the plans seemed to fail, there when our sin overwhelms us, there when the forces of domination, power and oppression crush an innocent person, there when the supporter turns into a betrayer—there when the friend forsakes you and flees.   There when you thirst and all that is available is sour wine, not living water. There when you have spent all your energy, exhausted all your reserves, and all you can do is cry “It is finished.”

In those moments the Cross reveals that nothing can separate us from God in Christ. In those moments we know that Christ has gone before us, and is beside us to hold, support, and befriend us.  Christ looks at us, and as he did with Mary and the beloved disciple, He ensures that we have others to care for us.

 Brother James Koester SSJE, said in a reflection posted earlier this week, “Sometime this week, someone will need you to lay down your life for them, and you will need another to lay down their life for you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.”[2]

In just a moment we will pour ourselves out in prayers for the world.  And then we come before the Cross, and offer up our deepest regrets, and worst sins,  and most fragile hopes.  And we come into the presence of love, into the presence of God.

Come into that presence.

Behold the wood of the Cross,

on which was hung the world’s salvation. 

Oh, come let us adore him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Photo found on Facebook, posted by Kara Slade.  Original digital manipulator unknown. It is an editing together of two works by 19C French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “Madonna of the Lilies” and “Pieta.”

[2] Br. James Koester SSJE, quoted in “Sacrifice: Holy Week at the Monastery: Praying Good Friday,” http://ssje.org/ssje/2015/02/26/praying-good-friday/ Accessed on 3/25/2016.

One thought on “Good Friday 2016

  1. Charles Cowen

    Finally got around to reading this, Gillian. Beautiful. Richard Wilbur is one of my favorite poets (and my absolute favorite translator of the plays of Moliere). Thanks for weaving art through this reflection. I think imagining the life, love, and grief of the Blessed Virgin Mary really helps me understand the mystery of the Incarnation.

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    Reply

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