April 14, 2017

My Saddest Good Friday in Memory: When Treasured Things are Dead

I spent a bit of time yesterday reading pieces I’ve written on Good Friday for the last several years. They all have a different tone, a different perspective, a different sense of the day Jesus saved the world.

This year is different yet again. If you’ll permit me grace to speak absolutely plainly, I’ll tell you a bit of how loss and grief and rejection will pulverize your heart and deliver you to Good Friday in pretty bad shape, or in any case, in the throes of recovery.

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. Of course, it was all planned, all intentional; Jesus was out to rescue us. We have the luxury of knowledge; we know about Sunday. We are living in the post-Sunday story, God’s grace to us.
But I get the death part this year, the Good Friday part. All the memes and quips and quotes floating around the internet are falling on a numb heart. This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. I experienced betrayal from people I thought loved us. I felt the cold winds of disapproval and the devastating sting of gossip. I received mocking group texts about me, accidentally sent to me; “Oh, we were just laughing WITH you!” they said upon discovery, an empty, fake, cowardly response. It was a tsunami of terror. One hundred things died. Some of them are still dead. Some are struggling for life but I don’t know if they will make it.

I told you I’d speak plainly.

This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ. I saw how it all works, not as an insider where I’ve enjoyed protection and favor for two decades, but from the outside where I was no longer welcome. The burn of mob mentality scorched my heart into ashes, and it is still struggling to function, no matter how darling and funny I ever appear; the internet makes that charade easy.

I went to the water as the tsunami crested, and my friend Trina drove out uninvited so I wouldn’t be alone. She took this picture and said: “I want you to remember how you felt on this day.” I cannot even look at it without sobbing. 
Simultaneously, other things died during the election season. Much ink has been spilled here and I won’t belabor the point, but I know I’m not the only one holding a pile of tattered threads in her hands, wondering what on earth just happened to our supposed holy common ground. The Christian Machine malfunctioned, and we are all still staring at each other, trying our damnedest to figure out how we understand the gospel so differently, unsure if we will ever find our way back to each other. The Christian community has been maligned, mocked, dragged, and dissected publicly, our civil war evident to a watching world. We are a meme. It is truly awful.

My mind knows the difference between the Christian Machine and Jesus, but this year it feels hard to separate. The whole system seems poisoned, and I struggle to drink any of it. Even as I recognize my cynicism throwing a wet blanket over the credible, sincere declarations of others, I can’t quite stop it. It’s all falling on damaged ears. Every bit of it feels manufactured, brand-building, pretty words that failed me, didn’t show up, joined the chorus that broke my family’s heart. This is plainly unfair, but here I am.

I think about Good Friday, and somehow I am comforted; typically this day is full of grief for me as a believer living in grace and privilege, unaccustomed to the sting of death and thus struggling to identify with Jesus on his darkest day. Usually, His pain pierces me because I live in such abundance, and the contrast shocks me silent. How could I have this much life when Jesus had to experience that much death? 

But this year, it all makes sense: the death, the anger, the man who never took his place in the machine. This day was lonely for Jesus. It was excruciating, physically and emotionally and spiritually. His people left him, even turned on him. God Himself hid his eyes. The sky went dark and life was extinguished. It was all so sad, so dead, so not yet resurrected. This was a day of tears and shock and loss and fear. It was a day of the cross, not the empty tomb.

Today, everything falls away and there is only Jesus for me. In His presence, my numb, angry heart gives way and I sob without end. But only with Him. Elsewhere, I have to be careful because I can never be as vulnerable as I was ever again. Everyone else at arm’s length. I’ll be friendly with folks but never again tender. You’ll get the strong, varnished version of me but I’ll not make the mistake of handing you my true heart. I actually told another person: “I wish you didn’t know as much as you know about me. I wish I could take that knowledge out of your head. I have to trust you with it, and I don’t now.” This is all a clear lie, somewhere between stages two and four of grief, but I’m still in recovery, not through it; I ask your grace.

I’ve obviously not said any of this to you, dear ones. I like you to see the strong, varnished version as well; it’s better for the brand, I’m told. But I’m tired of being a brand, because it is exhausting and, as it turns out, it tells people I am not a human being who bleeds out. Say anything! Make assumptions! Write a scathing narrative of her faith and faithfulness! After all, she is just a brand. I obviously don’t want you to know how much that stole from me; what I don’t want is more vulnerability right now. But Good Friday compels me to tell the truth about death. Just for a moment, the truth.

Some of you are simply enduring Good Friday so you can celebrate the victory of Sunday, where your heart lives, and I am so glad for you. I am. That was me last year. Seasons of wholeness and optimism and gratitude are so dear. Cherish it, if that is where you are today. Cherish the abundance of life after the tomb.

But for those of you hunkered down on Good Friday, identifying with the loss of this day in agonizing ways, ways that you did not want to understand the cross, I am your sister this year. When too many things still feel dead and resurrection feels as unlikely and impossible as it must have on this day all those years ago, I can’t help but believe Jesus has his eye on us specifically. Who can better understand the cross than the man who chose it? Who better to hold us close in our loneliness than the man who was left to suffer all alone? Nobody, not one human being on this earth understands a dark Friday more than Jesus, well before anyone thought to put a “Good” in front of it. 

I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.

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