Mom’s Handkerchief – Good Friday

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Muriel Titus Stewart

As a child, I wondered why they called Good Friday ‘good’. It wasn’t. It was awful.

At the annual Good Friday service my mother’s cheeks were wet. She’d hold her handkerchief in one hand and, without drawing attention to herself — Mom was shy and shunned attention — she would dab the tears, hoping no one would notice.

A soloist would sing:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when the crucified my Lord? Oh……

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Mom would dab her cheeks and eyes.

As I grew older I began to understand why they called the Friday of the crucifixion ‘good’. It wasn’t good because they nailed him to the tree, or because they took him down and laid him in a borrowed tomb. It was good because, in that deep darkness, tears fall in grief and in hopes of something else. Tears that recognize both the betrayal, denial, flight — our  own and others’ – and the steadfast love, courage, and magnanimity of the man on the cross.

Both sides of the human condition are front and center on Good Friday. So is the sense of god-forsakenness – the wrenching cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — the gnawing feeling of senselessness, meaninglessness, and helplessness, hanging alone, tortured and mocked, over the abyss of nothingness.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a healthy sense of denial is sometimes a good thing. So is truth-telling. Good Friday brings me face-to-face with myself at my worst and my best. And at the heart of it all is a man with arms spread wide, looking out at us who still crucify him — ours is a Good Friday world — with eyes that reach my soul. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

On Easter Mom would dab her eyes for joy because she’d brought her handkerchief with her from Good Friday.

— Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska. MN, April 14, 2017. Originally published April 3, 2015.

The Day of Nothingness

On Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter, we experience the silence of nothingness.

The sounds of hammers, taunts, and screams, and the sight of three dead men very different in life but equal now in death leave us face-to-face with all that is cruel, hopeless, meaningless – the deep darkness of despair.

This Holy Saturday the world is on full alert. Dread and fear spread. We who live in the aftermath of the latest terror in Brussels experience Holy Saturday – the day between Good Friday and Easter, knowing that only a resurrection can redeem a Good Friday world.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 26, 2016

Aphorism – Good Friday

Good Friday is good
not because of the betrayal,
the abandonment,
the suffering and death,
(the denial),
but because of the result:
Easter Sunday.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 25, 2016

A memory of Ken

The first Good Friday following retirement from active ministry is filled with the memory of a friend named Ken.

On Good Fridays from 2006 through 2013 Ken Beaufoy was the one member of the congregation I could count on to be with me in the Chapel from noon to 3:00 p.m. There were years when there were three or four. But most Good Fridays, it was just the two of us.

The pattern for the three-hours was very simple. Each half-hour began with a reading from the passion narratives of Gospels. A five minute silence followed, ending with a movement from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. A brief prayer was spoken aloud. Another contemplative silence ended the half-hour segment.

There were times when I looked at Ken and felt as though I knew him the way his beloved wife, Ilse, had known him. Isle had been the third person in the pews before her death in 2007. Ken and Ilse were like no other couple I’d ever known and not only because theirs was the most unlikely of loves. Ken, a British soldier during the occupation of German following the end of World War II, and Ilse, a German soldier decorated with the German Silver Cross for bravery, fell in love during the occupation and made a life together against all odds. Their marriage was a sign of the power of reconciling forgiveness and love.

Two people never adored each other more than Ken and Ilse. During Ilse’s demise, when hope was scarce and hard decisions were made, I saw Ken’s faith up close and personal in his Good Friday moment of saying goodbye to his Ilse. As often happens between a pastor and a congregant, we became blood brothers until Ken died quietly in his sleep.

Today I’m remembering Ken and those six half-hour segments in the Chapel. I read the readings, listen to the movements of Faure’s Requiem – Introit et Kyrie, Offertory, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei et Lux aeterna, Libera me, and In Paradisum – pray the prayers, and give thanks for a communion deeper than words. It still endures.

 

 

Mom’s Handkerchief – Good Friday

As a child, I wondered why they called Good Friday ‘good’. It wasn’t. It was awful.

At the annual Good Friday service my mother’s cheeks were wet. She’d hold her handkerchief in one hand and, without drawing attention to herself — Mom was shy and shunned attention — she would dab the tears, hoping no one would notice.

A soloist would sing:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when the crucified my Lord? Oh……
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Mom would dab her cheeks and eyes.

As I grew older I began to understand why they called the Friday of the crucifixion ‘good’. It wasn’t good because they nailed him to the tree, or because they took him down and laid him in a borrowed tomb. It was good because, in that deep darkness, tears fall in grief and in hopes of something else. Tears that recognize both the betrayal, denial, flight — our  own and others’ – and the steadfast love, courage, and magnanimity of the man on the cross.

Both sides of the human condition are front and center on Good Friday. So is the sense of god-forsakenness – the wrenching cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — the gnawing feeling of senselessness, meaninglessness, and helplessness, hanging alone, tortured and mocked, over the abyss of nothingness.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a healthy sense of denial is sometimes a good thing. So is truth-telling. Good Friday brings me face-to-face with myself at my worst and my best. And at the heart of it all is a man with arms spread wide, looking out at us who still crucify him — ours is a Good Friday world — with eyes that reach my soul. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

On Easter Mom would dab her eyes for joy because she’d brought her handkerchief with her from Good Friday.

— Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska. MN, April 3, 2015.

Good Friday 2013

Today is Good Friday.

Two pieces enriched the silence today. The first arrived early this morning.

Testimony

In Mark, the earliest account, the name
is given of the man who from the crowd
was forced to lift and carry the crude wood
cross that some carpenter had made the same
day. Simon of Cyrene is named, and then
the names of his two sons–as if they were
still living and could testify that their
father was one of the witnesses when
Jesus was crucified. Women were named
who saw the body buried in the grave,
and later returned to the empty cave
and found the heavy round stone had been rolled
away. Joseph of Arimathea
had given his own family tomb away.

But you are skeptical and full of doubt
that Christ is risen–you should check it out.
See that his followers who ran away
now risk their own lives when they sing and pray.
His students now have students. Many saw
him after death. They live and testify.
His movement grows, and some react with awe
and pass the story on, still testify…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Good Friday, 2013

The second arrived this afternoon.

Click HERE to read Dr. Matthew Boulton’s Good Friday reflection in the Indianapolis Star. Matthew carries on the story as President of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. Matt is the son of Wayne, my seminary roommate and best friend since 1964. “They live and testify. His movement grows, and some react with awe and pass the story on, still testify…”

A grief expressed

How does one give expression to the depth of horror that follows the death of a son or daughter, as in the case of David’s lament for Absalom? (See sermon “Holy Tears: David, Absalom…and Us” posted here yesterday.)  Percy Bysshe Shelley expresses it in poetry.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more -Oh, never more!

But music, the language of the soul, best expresses the cry from the depths, the prayer from the abyss for help for the helpless. In such moments of loss – and in the spiritual discipline of Good Friday reflection – I listen to “Libera Me” from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. So soulful. So honest. Real. Vulnerable. Pleading. A primal but lovely cry, given voice from the depths by a great composer.

“Good” Friday?

It’s Good Friday. Why would anyone call it “GOOD”? Today the Roman Empire executed Jesus. Beat him, stripped him, mocked him, jeered at him, hoisted him intot he air on cross, threw dice for the purple royal robe in which they had clothed him, pierced his side with a soldier’s spear, heard him cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani!” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Why would anyone in their right mind call this horror “GOOD”?

The raising of the cross - James Tissot

Sebastian Moore, O.B, speaks to this in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger (Seabury Press, 1977).

The meaning of the Christ-event is that in it the wrestle of man with his God-intended self is dramatized and led through the phases of rejection, hatred, crucifixion, destruction, surrender, new life. Oscar Wilde said, “each man kills the thing he loves.” Those who stop short of evil in themselves will never know what love is about. They will never receive the crucified. – p. 37

The human race thinks it can go on with all its Narcissistic human normalities, of war, of politics, of religion, and that somehow the vast other side of the picture will look after itself. So in opting for “himself as conscious”, man is opting for an ultimate solitude.

And ultimate solitude is death. It is to be cut off from the tree of life, and to wither. – pp. 69-70

For your further reflection, this poem received today from Steve Shoemaker.

Good Friday?

What makes this Friday Good is not what Rome

did to Jesus: torture, false witnesses,

and finally capital punishment.

In all regimes these standard practices

preserve the powerful, but then foment

disgust, infamy,  abroad– shame at home.

The dying one, the empty tomb was good

only if we are justified by trust,

mysteriously by God’s grace made whole.

The goodness cannot stay with us, it must

be passed on to the world–this is our role.

The Good is recalled in the feast:  soul food.

In a few moments I will host the Good Friday meditation – readings from the Gospels, long silences, the movements of Garbriel Faure’s Requiem…silence…reading… until it all soaks in.

I can’t get to Easter by by-passing the cross. Click  to hear the music.

Sojourners Today

This morning Sojourners chose to publish last Sunday’s sermon (posted yesterday on “Views from the Edge”) on it blog, “God’s Politics:  a Blog with Jim Wallis and Friends”. Click THE STONES ARE SINGING for the Sojourners post to read and hear it, “like” it (If you do :-)), post a comment,or send it to a friend by email.

Once again, special thanks to Dennis Aubrey and Via Lucis (click the link for today’s Good Friday photos) for permission to use his magnificent photographs and written description of his time in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Vezelay, France.

Reading Dennis’ words from the pulpit near the end of the sermon, I had to stop. It was as though years of trying to understand had come together into a single moment. When  the Gospel writer has Jesus respond to his critics with “I tell you, if these keep silent, the very stones will cry out,” he is quoting from the Scriptures of his Jewish faith – Ode against the Chaldeans in the Book of Habakkuk “The stone shall cry out from the wall, and the beam out of the framework shall answer it. Woe to him that builds a town with blood, and establishes a city by iniquity.” (Hab. 2:11-12)

 

“Easter Morning”

Steve Shoemaker

It’s Monday of Holy Week. I’m walking with Jesus as best I can toward the cross and  toward the celebration of Easter. This year I’m walking with members of the congregation who are  suffering, in great pain, sick, dying people, trying the best I can to be with them fully in ways that, by the grace of God, might help. This is not head stuff. It’s heart stuff. I get tangled in my head too often. I open the morning email. There’s this double acrostic poem from my old friend Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ and shrinking Ph.D. kite-flyer theologian and poet. Thank you, Steve.EASTER MORNING

Either Jesus really did rise or

All his followers made up the worst

Series of lies in history…  Poor

Thomas certainly was right to doubt

Even after hearing tales:  what four

Reached the tomb (or five?)  Who saw him first?

 

Matthew says two women, Mark says three;

Or was it just one, as said by John?

Reports of what eye-witnesses can see

Never can be trusted.  Luke said one

In the road joined two who could not see–

Not until he broke the bread…  No one

Got the story straight! Conspiracy?

 

Even grade school kids could do as well.

And Luke throws in Peter saw him too–

Somewhere unreported…  Who could tell

That this jumble of accounts could do

Enough to give faith and hope to all.

Resurrection?  Who could think it true?

 

Maybe just the simple:  those whose eyes

Open to the light through grief, through tears…

Reminded of love, of truth, of grace…

Needing to be fed, hands out for bread…

Inspired by the scriptures, in whose head

Grow visions:  life can come from the dead.

I’m adding this visual: “Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb”:

Disciples John and Peter Run to the Tomb

Burnand, Eugène, 1850-1921. Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb on Easter morning, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55038 [retrieved April 2, 2012].

Steve and I would love to hear your reflections and responses to Steve’s poem or Burnand’s painting. Thanks for coming by.