Friday, March 29, 2013

The Death of Our Lord

At noon today, we gathered in the parking lot of Queen of Angels Catholic Church with about a hundred other Christians to walk The Way of the Cross. Catholics and Protestants came together from various churches in Alpine for the Ecumenical Stations of the Cross, something we've participated in for the past seven years. At each of the fourteen white crosses along the western fence of the asphalt lot, pastors from the various churches took turns in reading a passage of Scripture from the Gospels, starting with Jesus Praying on the Mount of Olives to Jesus Is Buried.

After each Scripture reading, the large group of Christians walked to the next cross, Jonathan and Father Acker playing a verse of "Were You There?" which everyone sung quietly until the next reading. Unfortunately, this year I couldn't walk the Stations as usual; I sat along the sidelines watching everyone else walk; fortunately, the microphones allowed me to hear the readings and sing along with the verses. It was a slow, meditative journey through Christ's last human hours as He gave up His life for us. After the fourteenth cross, everyone left in contemplative silence, the mood somber, as it should be.

Throughout Lent, I've been reading through and writing prayers for each day to the Lenten Devotional created by The High Calling. They have also arrived in my e-mail box each day, but I preferred printing them out and writing my own prayer responses on the blank page opposite in the binder I placed the printed pages into. Today's devotional may be read here: The Death of Jesus.

This is my written response, finished at 3:00 PM, traditionally the time of Jesus' death on the cross:

Dear Father,
Today--along ago Friday that we remember and re-live and re-experience each year--Jesus died. In the garden, He struggled for a moment against death, against the burden of the world's sins--past, present, and future--that He was taking upon Himself, against the separation from His disciples and from You. 
Praying with such earnestness that He perspired blood, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will but Yours be done." 
He watched the desertion of most of His disciples; He was confronted by the Jewish and Roman leaders yet spoke barely a word in His defense. He was mocked, ridiculed, spat upon, scourged with whips embedded with glass that ripped the skin from His body. 
Jesus was beaten past recognition.
And He accepted it all without a word. 
Even when the mockery of a crown of thorns was thrust upon His head, blood running into His eyes, down His face, soaking His hair. 
After a beating that would have killed many men, He was forced to carry His own cross through the city to the Place of the Skull, the rough wood leaving huge splinters in his scourged back and arms. After collapsing three times (according to tradition), Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry the heavy cross to place where public executions were held outside the city gates. The road was uphill almost the whole way. 
His clothing removed, Jesus was nailed to the rough wooden cross, the symbol of ultimate shame. The nails were six inches long and half an inch in diameter--nails driven through his wrists and a third through his crossed ankles which would bear the weight of his entire body. 
The cross was raised then, and for six hours, Jesus suffered unendurable agony for six hours, from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon: the physical agony of the crucifixion plus the spiritual agony of the world's sins plus the emotional pain of the desertion of His disciples and His Father. He cried out for His Father, "Why have You forsaken Me?"   
His lungs slowly filled with fluid as Jesus drowned in water from His own body. Then at noon the sky darkened for three hours. He forgave those who crucified Him, claiming their ignorance. He forgave those who deserted Him. He gave His beloved mother into Saint John's keeping. He promised paradise to the thief who asked for Jesus' remembrance in heaven.
When Jesus surrendered His Spirit, the earth shook, graves opened, and the dead walked again. The Roman guards trembled and fled in abject fear as the Roman centurion spoke Truth: "Surely this was the Son of God!" 

Tonight I'll attend the second of the Triduum services at Victoria House with Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity. Last night we remembered Maundy Thursday, and Father Acker washed our feet. On his knees, his washed our feet, dried them, kissed them, and thanked us for our service to our Lord. It's uncomfortable to have our pastor on his knees before us, doing what seems to be such a demeaning yet intimate act, for washing the feet of guests to a home was reserved for the lowest servant in the household. I can see why Peter freaked out and refused to let Jesus wash his feet at first; it's my first reaction to pull back my foot and not let Father Acker demean himself by washing my foot, sweaty from a day's activities (and with green-painted toenails too!). But through our pastor's act, we see Jesus doing the same for His disciples, commanding them to "love one another."

Tonight we will read the crucifixion from the Gospels, each of us taking the part of the crowd,  demanding "Crucify him! Crucify him!" It brings me to the brink of tears every Good Friday. And then we venerate the cross, taking a moment before a rough wooden crucifix, touching the wooden figure representing Jesus as we remember what He did for us on that Friday nearly two thousand years ago.

Tomorrow night is my favorite service of the whole year: Holy Saturday Vigil. I'll write more about that tomorrow--the most ancient service practiced in the Anglican Church.

Wishing you all a contemplative and Holy Good Friday,

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