Today is Good Friday, and I think, theologically, I’m starting to grasp its goodness. This has always been a hard one for me. Even in my young evangelical days I felt so uncomfortable with the centrality of the cross in Christianity. It made me uncomfortable; I often turned away. I hated songs like “The Old Rugged Cross” because why would I want to think about death? And why would God send Jesus to die–for my sins?
I eventually put on a resurrection-focused theology, which made Passion Week about Easter only. Maybe the death of Jesus happened only so he could live again.
This past year, if you’ll remember from my 2014 posts, I’ve been making connections between the experiences of people of color in America and the sacrifice of Christ–between the cross and the lynching tree. I love Shane Claiborne’s post this week about it, and the image he used to bind the connection.
This year I’ve been reflecting more on the role of grief. I guess this isn’t too far from last year’s reflection. There is so much to grieve in our world.
This is where I find Good Friday “helpful”–it’s the manifestation of God’s suffering-with, God’s love and care for God’s people. For me, it’s not that God sentenced Jesus to death, as certain atonement theologies profess–it’s that Jesus lived in such a way that committed him to death. He was fully human in every way, feeling even the weightiest pain we experience: abandonment, mockery, sexual shame, racial prejudice, and on and on. He’s not unfamiliar with the suffering those around us feel; he’s felt it himself.
Last year I read an essay by Serene Jones where she talks about how the Cross is a helpful category for those who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths. Like a woman who bears death in her body, in the death of Christ, the Godhead bears death within God’s self. I read in Shelly Rambo’s book that maybe in our darkest moments, where God seems the farthest away, there the Spirit is hovering, comforting.
I’ve learned to imagine that God grieves with me, that the Spirit isn’t just with me in my suffering but is suffering with me. She’s groaning too.
This winter I stumbled upon this poem, “Grief,” by Matthew Dickman that felt like the truest poem on grief I’ve ever read. I brought it to my church community during Lent this year and spoke a bit to my grieving process. (Grief, I’ve come to learn, is not linear. It doesn’t just go away after X amount of days. . . or X amount of drinks.)
So I offer this to you as a Good Friday poem, as a way to orient ourselves to this day–a day of grief (of our grief and of God’s grief):
Grief by Matthew Dickman
When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside,
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known,
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the checkout line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead,
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? she says,
reading the name out loud, slowly,
so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.