My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Have you ever come in at the end of a movie where everyone is hugging and dancing and laughing with joy? It’s all happy and “The End” comes up and everyone else who has watched the whole movie sighs and says something like, “Wow, that was so amazing. What a wonderful ending!” And you’re thinking…well, what happened in the beginning, and the middle? What exactly was it that was so amazing?
That’s how Easter Sunday is for God’s family. Wow! Amazing! Wonderful!
But many people only come to church on Easter Sunday (and maybe Christmas if it fits into the family schedule), so they get the happy smiles, the contented sighs, the joyous celebration of the Risen Christ.
But that’s not the whole story…
…and I think that’s what causes a lot of new believers in Christ to give up.
They think that being a Christian gives them some pass on sadness and troubles, pain and heartache. They believe that this new life they’ve been promised is going to be all butterflies and rainbows.
And when it isn’t…
…that’s the end of their walk with Jesus.
Because it’s just too hard; we expect it’s all going to be good.
Our church has a Tenebrae service on Good Friday. The Friday before Easter Sunday, which is anything but “good.”
Tenebrae is Latin for “shadows.” The service gives us a shadow of the betrayal, the abandonment, and the agony of the events that changed the world. As people enter the church they’re provided with a small black square of paper and a pencil to write down anything they want to forgive or be forgiven, let go of or give to God.
The service begins with the church in candlelight. There are any number of candles lit, plus one large white Christ candle. Readers go up on the stage one at a time, read a portion of the scripture (John 18-19:5) and snuff out one candle at a time until only the one Christ candle remains.
The last reader shares Psalm 22:1-21 and extinguishes the last candle, leaving the room in darkness. Some people leave immediately, others sit quietly or write on their papers and set them at the foot of the cross as they go. The service is over and left unfinished, because the story isn’t over until Easter Sunday.
It’s all very subdued and somber, and not what most new-to-the-whole-Jesus-thing would expect.
And to be honest, walking with Jesus can be like that. Not what you’d expect…and sometimes it’s a not-so-good walk. Sometimes there’s just one tiny light that leaves you wondering if it’s going to blaze up or sputter out; other times it’s so dark you can’t see any light at all.
And that’s where faith comes in. Real faith. The kind that gets down and dirty. The kind you have to hold your breath for. The kind of faith that makes you weak and yet strong at the same time. The kind of faith that makes you completely dependent on The Light because, to be honest, there’s nowhere else to turn.
Walking with Jesus is hard. Too hard to do alone. But that’s the Good News isn’t it? We don’t have to do it alone because there was a Good Friday. That’s what’s so “good” about Good Friday. Because Christ took my place, your place, everyone’s place on the cross to pay for all the sins – past, present, and future – so we can have that happy ending!
Easter Sunday is the happy, hugging, joy-filled, oh-so-thankful, rainbows and butterflies day that we can and should celebrate. And someday, every day will be like that. Right now we’re walking in Saturday, that day before Sunday. So when you’re in the dark, remember that Jesus is right there with you. You never have to be alone because of Good Friday.
Lord we can’t in any way imagine what it was like for you, God, to walk among your created people, to give up your deity to make us holy. We can’t understand how it felt to take our place, to suffer as you suffered, not for your sins, but for ours. Thank you isn’t enough, but with your power and strength, through the Holy Spirit that is present in and with every person that turns from their sins and accepts the great sacrifice you made for us, we are empowered to share your love and the hope of eternity. In the powerful name of Jesus we pray, Amen.