For 10 April 2020: Good Friday
Read: Matthew 26:31-27:66
It was May. The sky was as clear, and sun filled as today. Memorial Day was being observed. As the pastor at the only local church, I was asked to come give a few remarks and offer a prayer. The cemetery was in a place best described as “nearly inaccessible.” One of my parishioners met me at the road to take me back to the cemetery. He was using a tractor and hay wagon to move people; some were walking the dusty tractor path along a fence row toward a stand of trees. Nestled in that grove of trees was a small cemetery. It had long ago stopped receiving internments. However, every year on Memorial Day, the trustees for the cemetery, their families, a team from the local American Legion Post, and a few others would gather to hold a service to honor those buried there. They were veterans of the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War 1.
I walked from the cemetery back to my car after our small service was ended. It wasn’t a long walk. The farmer whose field we traversed yelled out asking if I wanted a ride. I declined citing a need to walk and “stretch my legs.” In truth, I needed to ponder what we had just done. For some interned in that cemetery, their rest had been unbroken for over 100 years. The residents of the cemetery hadn’t had a new member added to their number since the 1940’s. There we stood with hearts filled. Gratitude was felt and expressed for what those who rest in that place had done for us, both descendants and fellow citizens of the republic. It was a place of extraordinary events both remembered and enacted in that moment.
As I read the passage from Matthew today, my heart and mind wandered back to the memory of that event many long years ago. We Christians, on Good Friday, remember a cemetery of extraordinary events, too. Jesus, another would-be messiah, had been executed. A kindly disciple quietly buries the body in a tomb prepared for himself. The political and cultural forces which had worked in concert to bring about Jesus’ death continued to work in concert in order to guard the cemetery and tomb where Jesus lay. We Christians remember those extraordinary events from 2,000 years ago on this day, Good Friday.
I have long thought that Good Friday is, in essence, a day for deep gratitude. We remember the events of the day, but do we let the stories of those events touch us as those stories of courageous soldiers and sailors serving our nation touched those of us gathered in the near forgotten cemetery on that Memorial Day so long ago? It was an extraordinary event celebrating the extraordinary actions of those who had served our nation.
In some traditions, the focus for Good Friday is our sinfulness as human beings. We are sinful, but the ultimate story of which Good Friday is a part, is a story of forgiveness and welcome, of life eternal and abundant. I know where this story will end. I cannot be sad on Good Friday. Rather, I am simply grateful. Grateful that God included me in the invitation to new, abundant, and eternal life. Jesus’ death on the Cross is sad. Yet in that self-giving, he showed us how to live. I’m not sad. I couldn’t change the story no matter how much remorse and regret I express. Rather, I feel gratitude. God has included me, and you, in the what is extraordinary to us, but ordinary for God: love, mercy, and favor offered without price or merit. Good Friday is a day to celebrate God’s grace. The only response I know to offer in response is gratitude.