Death is hard to grasp. Our mind recoils at it, and sometimes denies it. When someone we love dies, part of us can go on believing that it isn’t true. Even when we’ve seen someone die with our own eyes, we can still be in denial.
One of the ways we come to terms with death is by ritualizing the ending of someone’s life. We get together in groups and perform certain actions and say certain words when someone dies. We call this a funeral. The funeral is not “for” the dead person, as much as it is “for” the people left behind, to help them acknowledge that death has happened.
Tomorrow, our Good Friday service is structured as a funeral for Jesus. Of course, when Jesus died, there was no funeral. He had been executed by the state, his body was hurriedly buried by a few friends, anxious to finish preparations for burial before the Sabbath.
I’ve structured the service in this way because a funeral ritual is the way in our culture we come to terms with death. Perhaps by following this form, we can come to a deeper understanding of what happened on Good Friday. What were his friends, his family feeling or thinking the day he died? How were they making sense of what happened?
Today, of course, when someone dies, we take great comfort in the resurrection, and that Jesus conquered death. But for those friends mourning Jesus’ death, there was no such comfort. Their hopes and dreams seem shattered. They would have felt shell-shocked (although that word had not been invented yet) by watching their friend be tortured and die a gruesome death.
Good Friday is a time to face death and look it squarely in the eye. That’s what Jesus did. Join us in our service this year, to enter into this holy time of passion.
This week’s prayer: (a verse from the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” a hymn whose words are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153)
Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.