Many of us have witnessed death. Maybe you were at a loved one’s side when they breathed their last breath. Maybe you saw the violence of the world steal a life too soon. Maybe it was a friend. Maybe it was a stranger. Maybe you witnessed it alone. Maybe you were in the midst of a caring community. Maybe death was relief after a long struggle. Maybe death was sudden and shocking. Maybe it was quiet. Maybe you cursed. Maybe you cried. Maybe you were numb. Whatever your situation witnessing death, seeing death changes you. As a human, there is no way to witness death without being touched in some way.
Today’s a day about witnessing death. We don’t say it that way, probably because it’s not politically correct, but Good Friday is a call for Christians to come and witness death – Christ’s death. Humans don’t want to witness death. We don’t want our loved ones to die, and we don’t want to see it. And we certainly don’t want God to die, or to honestly talk about the cruel death crucifixion is. But today, Good Friday, we beg people of faith to come and witness death. The moment Christ, beaten and mocked, was violently nailed to a cross. And then hours later, when the afternoon sun was covered and it became dark as night, his frail body stopped being alive. Jesus, God’s only son, died. Today we are invited into the space we do not want to go.
Today in sanctuaries around the world, crosses are front and center. Violence is named. We talk about blood being shed and a body broken. The picture is painted from many vantage points – from loved ones, those hanging on crosses, the guards in charge, and those passing by. And it’s a heart wrenching account no matter the perspective. The death we are called to witness is horrible. Bottomline. And then, if we let ourselves, those of us who have witnessed death first hand, it’s hard not to have this narrative play alongside our own experience. Today death is real, and personal.
Many of us know mourning. For some of us, mourning has been apart of our story for some time. For some of us, mourning has not deeply impacted our lives. For some of us, mourning is a current state of mind. Wired for community, mourning is a consequence of death. For people who love and care for others, mourning is a reality. And no matter your economic status, gender, or ethnic background, mourning sucks.
Within the past week, two college students in my area committed suicide. Today, I can’t hear death without thinking about the family and friends of these two young adults. Questions. Anger. Sadness. Wonder. Confusion.
Yet they are not the only ones mourning. I remember the many funerals I have attended this past year, and all the lives these people touched. Hundreds, thousands of people mourning, missing the ones they loved. Mourning is a strange human state. Personal and communal, mourning offers an array of emotions which logic cannot explain or chase away. Mourning plays with us, it’s like living in two states at once…physically going through the motions of everyday living and emotionally existing in another realm. Surprising and with patterns, mourning is a roller coaster ride.
Mourning causes us to revisit our own story. Today I think of so many people whose stories have had to be rewritten – because a child, a spouse, a parent, or sister died. No matter how much time passes, rewriting one’s life story requires courage, more courage then some of us think we have, courage human’s cannot muster alone.
Today’s a day about mourning. Good Friday worship witnessing to the death of Jesus, but it also brings Christians together and offers space for mourning. Like at a funeral, we hear the story of a person’s life and death, personally and in community. Mourning is different for each person, yes, but having companions along on the journey is important. I have attended Good Friday worship in my home congregation and in congregations far from my home. The two are not the same, but I am comforted in both places. Why? Because like at a funeral, we can be with people we know or don’t know and it doesn’t matter, what matters is this – there are other trying to understand the impact this person’s life had on theirs, just like me.
Brothers and sisters, today is a day of mourning. We come together to witness death, to be in community, but also to revisit our story in light of this reality. Because of Jesus’ death, my story is rewritten. It’s true. Jesus, God, faced death. Jesus knows the pain of the world, knows betrayal, knows sorrow. And Jesus knows death. I don’t know what to do with that most days. But many days I know Good Friday. I have witnessed death and I know mourning. But that’s not all.
Sunday is coming, and with it comes a promise. With it comes hope and new possibilities. And for that I am grateful. For those of us rewriting our stories, this can give us courage. And I, like many of you, will live into my new story as the days unfold. But for today, I pause and give thanks for a life – the life of Jesus. And remember his story by remembering his death. And I do not do it alone.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to find a worshipping community to join this evening. If that is not an option for you, I encourage you to find a Bible (or go online) and read the story. (Read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, or John 19.) Dwell in this Good Friday.