A year ago, on Good Friday, I sat alone with a dear friend keeping early morning vigil in a silent church, dark at first but growing in light as our hour passed. I wrote then of the ineffable inmost dwellings of our yearnings for the Other. I tried to write, as best I could, of those things that are quite simply beyond words.
This year, the church was the same, but the circumstances different. This year, my Good Friday was not that of a quiet lonely morning vigil, with no clergy or music but only growing light and deafening silence. Rather, this Good Friday contained a bleak service at high noon, with the clergy moving in deliberate slowness dressed only in unadorned black robes, two simple but profound songs and a couple dozen fellow travelers. A cross with a veil was quietly brought down the aisle to begin the Liturgy of Good Friday, with the small assembled congregation slowly bowing as it passed each pew.
In this starkness, the Celebrant begins…
Almighty God, we pray graciously to behold this your family… and already I am transported in a way that liturgy can, if only I allow it in. Wait, what was that?…I am “family” to ALMIGHTY God?
Again and again in this barebones worship service, the lavious richness of the words pour over my head like the perfumed oil that the adoring woman used to annoint Jesus.
In the lessons, first from Isaiah:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Then from the Psalm that Jesus remembered in his agony:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer…
and by night, but I find no rest…
After the lessons, the reading of The Passion According to John and a brief homily, a chanted hymn is sung…
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle;
of the mighty conflict sing;
tell the triumph of the victim,
to his cross thy tribute bring.
Jesus Christ, the world’s Redeemer
from that cross now reigns as King.
Toward the end, the priest goes through “The Solemn Collects,” a long litany of elegant petitions for the depth and breadth of our profound needs:
Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before
you for all members of your holy Church…
Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of
peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for
the nations of the earth…
Let the cry of those in misery and need come
to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred
But for all the wondrous prose that this most sacred service contains, it was the singing of the simplest of hymns that made me stop before my voice broke. I’m not sure what it was about “Where You There When They Crucified My Lord?” that caught me so this day. Was it the genesis of the song, and my uncomfortable knowledge of the generations of slaves that sought its solace? Was it the repetition of each phase of the story, asking me if I was there when they nailed Him to a tree, or laid Him in a tomb, or when He rose up from the grave? Or was it just the overwhelming, unimaginable idea of someone giving his life to us — to ME — to show the immeasurable and relentless Love that the Divine Power of this Universe offers?
I really don’t know. What I do know is that the more I travel this journey and allow myself just to stop feeling unworthy and just accept the gift…it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.