love abides

I’ve said before that the Good Friday liturgy makes me feel like I’m being crushed from the inside.

It’s the crushing that comes before rebirth.

And it’s good.

It’s good because we live in a world that is increasingly unwilling to sit with grief and suffering.

If you look around at the books on the nonfiction bestseller list, popular teachers and blogs, perhaps your own client roster, you’ll see it.

You’ll see an almost desperate need to turn away from suffering, to pretend it doesn’t exist, to come up with a system for keeping it at bay. You’ll find all sorts of remedies – if only you’ll paste the right pictures on your vision board or rid yourself of the wrong thoughts – if only you’ll align yourself to exactly the right posture – there will be no suffering. You’ll get what you want, you’ll be happy, you’ll escape disaster. You’ll create all good things and no bad things.

But that’s just not so.

There is inevitable tragedy in life.

Perhaps you’ve already been through it. Perhaps it’s somewhere in your future. It’s a part of being alive – not a punishment and certainly not evidence that you’ve done anything wrong.

I believe in an exemplar Jesus. I believe he models for us how to respond to this world, and what I hear in the Passion Gospel is a story of tremendous suffering at the hands of the very worst humanity has to offer, but where God is present even still.

God is present in our suffering, not because God likes for us to suffer, not because we’re being “taught a lesson” or saved from hell (you know by now, I don’t believe in hell except for the precious little hells we create for ourselves here on earth), but because God – whatever God is – loves us.

God looked at us and said that we were good, and God continues to say this, even as we do evil and make horrible mistakes.

God doesn’t shrink away, even when we offer up the very worst of ourselves.

Even if you don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, even if Christianity or organized religion just isn’t your thing, there’s still something beautiful to bear witness to in this story. There’s still a man who taught radical love, who dared to shake up the system, who was betrayed by the very people who swore they’d not betray him, who was tortured and killed because he dared preach a love that is transformative and powerful.

And this kind of love, the kind that shows up right smack dab in the middle of the most horrific violence and says, I’m still here. I’m still love – that’s a love that changes everything.

So that’s what I think about when I sit in the church on Good Friday, feeling crushed.

I think about deep sorrow and what it feels like when the heart is broken and how love is with that, how love is within that.

I think of all the people and animals in the world right now living in deep sorrow with broken hearts and how love is with them, moving through them, sitting next to them, and how the way for them to know this love is for others of us to demonstrate it, to sit next to them, to touch them, to see them.

The way we know love is to experience it in one another.

I think about how we look for miracles – miracle healings that make diseases disappear and burdens lift away and difficult circumstances do an about face – but when we seek that, we often miss the ongoing miracle, the ever present miracle of love that says, even in the midst of this disease, even as you carry these burdens, even as you struggle in these circumstances – I am here.

Loving you.

The thing that’s the hardest about that sort of love isn’t understanding it. It’s accepting it.

That’s part of where the crushing comes in for me.

To hear the story and say, yes, okay. I’ll be loved in that way. I’ll allow all parts of me to be loved. I’ll open myself to love even though I’m only halfway pulled together, even though I’m constantly making mistakes, even though I’ve done and said and been all of these things that I’m not proud of, even in my suffering. Especially then.

During the Maundy Thursday service at my church, there is an opportunity to come forward and have your feet washed, or wash the feet of someone else. While the congregation kneels and sings, people answer the call in their hearts, go forward and sit while one of the priests pour water over their feet and another dries their feet, lovingly, carefully.

I’m shy and vain.

I stay in my pew, but I could barely watch the foot washing this year because it was so humbling and beautiful, so deeply, quietly beautiful, it made me cry, and I thought for a moment that I might stay there and cry forever.

There are things we can do for another. We may not know how to heal the world or even make to the afternoon – but there are simple, true things we can do.

At the end of this service the altar is stripped. The clergy remove their vestments and everything is taken away – the altar cloths, the candles – every holy object. The lights are extinguished, our priest wipes down the altar, we leave the church in silence, without ceremony, the way the disciples must have left the last supper – devastated, confused, scared.

People stay all night, at least two for every hour of the night, and pray in the empty church where silence is kept until noon on Good Friday.

It is the acknowledgement of suffering.

Wanting to heal it, yes. Wishing it were not so, yes. But not turning away from it, not pushing it away. Sitting with it.

I think this is something we need to learn; something I need to learn.

I’m so very tired of schemes and plans that offer quick success while ignoring hunger and sorrow and brokenness.

To be healed does not mean to be free of all pain.

What it means is to be whole.

Tonight there is a basketball game my whole town including all of my family will be watching. We’re hoping the Wildcats will go all the way – win the championship, undefeated. We rally around basketball around here. It’s maybe the one unifying thing Kentuckians share.

But I’ll be joining that game already in progress.

I’ll go first to Easter Vigil where we will light a fire outside to illuminate the Paschal candle, then process into the church by candlelight. It is the most important Mass of the liturgical year, the service that concludes Lent, where we are allowed once again to say Alleluia. The light comes back. It’s Easter.

What we know about love in that moment we know because we have traveled the dark, painful road to get there.

Love abides.

No matter what.

Love can’t be extinguished.

Love does not stop loving.

Perhaps there are things in life to endure but truly, there is nothing to fear.