Yesterday, along with another young woman interning at my church, I carried a seven-foot-tall, thick wooden cross (literally an “old rugged cross”) down the aisle of the sanctuary.
Today, I have a scrape on the palm of my right hand to show for it. I wash my hands, and the scrape stings just a little. I see it standing out from the smoothness of the rest of my hand, and I remember that I’ve carried a cross.
“Take up your cross and follow me” is an awfully painful command, friends.
It’s a painful command in our religiously and politically charged culture, in which a great many people think we’re taking up our crosses and following Jesus — and we all mean something different by it. When crosses hang around our necks as we reject, insult, gossip, curse, betray, threaten, or abuse.
I wonder if many of us who have come in close contact with religion have a scrape or two to show for it. If we, too, try to wash our hands of it, and the scrape still stings just a little — or more than a little.
I wonder these things especially after reading Jen Hatmaker’s vulnerable blog post yesterday, entitled “My Saddest Good Friday In Memory: When Treasured Things Are Dead.” Hatmaker writes:
“Good Friday is about death – even a necessary death – and that makes more sense to me now than maybe ever. It speaks of a dark day and broken hearts, unmet expectations, mob mentality turned brutal. When I consider that day now, in 2017, it all feels insane, blood-thirsty, the punitive result of being on the wrong side of religion.”
Jesus knows about those dark days and broken hearts. Jesus knows about unmet expectations. Jesus knows about the punitive result of being on the wrong side of religion.
So, maybe Good Friday is about good grief. Because good grief is exactly what Jesus knows. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:5). Grief over the loss of a loved one, a home, a job, a way of life, a way of thinking. Grief over whatever it is that once brought comfort — and now brings only a cross.
I think of the 5 stages of grief famously identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and as I go through the sacred days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, I hear signs that Jesus understands this grieving process:
Denial. Jesus might not have denied his fate. But everyone else, notably Peter, sure did (Matthew 26:31-35).
Anger. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Bargaining. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39).
Depression. “I am deeply grieved, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38) and “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
Acceptance. “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Did Jesus check off each of these stages as he moved through them, neatly and in order? No. Do we? Not at all. The point is that Jesus knows about grief.
Truly, blessedly, Jesus knows about hope too. But, honestly, in the death of Good Friday, in the silence of Holy Saturday, and for some of us lasting onward into the foreseeable future, grief is where we’re at.
Grief that is fully understood by Jesus, fully carried by Jesus all the way to the cross and tomb and through to the impossible dawn of resurrection.