Something is Rising

We celebrated Palm Sunday, the day Christians everywhere rejoice in the One who came to save us, paraded into town as we grabbed onto the hope He brought. I have heard the story related countless times, always a bit reluctant to join in the chorus, knowing much more would be asked of me through the church calendar in just days. Yet I can admit here that I am a much better Palm Sunday Christian than a Good Friday one. I am most comfortable following this man, this God among us, when things are going well. I can raise my hands and proclaim He is my king when I am filled with blessings and the mortgage is paid and the children are safe and happy. Yeah, party! Who doesn’t like a chance to see greatness, to snap a picture along the parade route of the biggest celebrity around? I am most fond of this humble man who sends out invitations to join His way of thinking, to be in relationship with His Father.  I can celebrate with the best sideline believers, waving my palms and singing praises. The real test comes on Friday, the symbolism not lost on me as I mark that day each week, remembering the phone call that came to tell me my son had died on an otherwise unremarkable Friday morning. Can I be a real follower even on Friday?

The progression from Sunday to Friday offers me countless opportunities to live as if I believe even when my heart is broken, even when I am fumbling around in the darkness. I wish I could say I seize those chances, that I trust the Light will always shine. I wish I could say that I once did at least, until my son died and my faith was severely tested. The truth is that I struggle to see Him when the parade is over, when I am alone and faced with the choice to believe. I continue to look for others who also joined the parade but have kept waving their palms, those who know and speak the truth to me as disciples, who don’t shout out for persecution when life is at its hardest. No, I am definitely a second wave believer at best, one who gets converted through the life and walk of those who understood the first time around. When Jesus was carrying the burden of my judgements and anger and shame on that cross, even then I was focused on Him not being who I wanted, not fulfilling all of my immediate needs. I miss the truth over and over, rejecting grace in favor of misery.

I wonder what it will take for me to go all in, to just lay down my doubts and stop hiding behind the waving palms of others. How many times will I be shown through the example of those sitting next to me in church, those who refuse to let me sob alone as the praise team fills the sanctuary with music and all I can feel is sorrow? How many times do I have to experience the grace that overflows when I share frustrations and anger and faulty perspectives with a friend and find I am still accepted even as I am gently nudged into kinder thoughts? Coming to accept that maybe I will always need the witness and example of those more firmly rooted in their faith to keep me walking towards the promised land, I can stop blaming and shaming myself for not being good enough, strong enough to walk in a way that leads others as well. Offering grace and compassion to myself, finding space to be good enough, that is the first step in accepting Him and his unconditional love for me. The steps over the last few years have been leading me here, to this day when I can say, “Oh Honey, you did the best you could.” I realize now Jesus was walking with me, asking to carry my cross the whole time.

As I inch forward and stumble and start again, the relentlessness of God is undeniable. He sends folks to walk with me, to share their struggles and how He has answered their prayers while they reach out a hand and help me up. When I am confused and questioning, clarity comes in the shape of truth speakers sprinkling bits of wisdom and hope like glitter that sparkles and sticks to me even as I try to brush it away.  He sends me out to care for a woman who has lost most of her identity and memories to Alzheimers, maybe the most unlikely of disciples solar, yet I find healing in recounting my own stories to someone completely unable to judge, someone who cannot take sides or evaluate my choices. She is forcing me to stay in the moment, in the conversation happening between us, to find niblets of joy without any self-consciousness. When she laughs, when she tosses her head back and her eyes sparkle with a memory, I forget about all the memories that hold pain and see that I can reorder my own to include ones that bring smiles. In the end, resurrecting every wrong or disappointment or humiliation  is just too much work and adds weight tot he cross I keep trying to carry alone.

We are heading into Friday, days where I can chose to see who God really is, the fullness of His love, or I can chant persecute and wonder why He didn’t live up to His promises. Fridays are hard for me these days, yet I sense something rising within me. I may be becoming one of the disciples, after all. I am being offered another chance to be a believer even when all goes wrong, when my soul is crushed under the weight of mourning. As I watched the children at church parade up to the altar, waving their palm fronds, I felt pulled to let it all go and join them, to unabashedly trust with them that while Fridays are horrible, Sunday does come. Another witness, sent to show me the way, these faith-filled children may have been the last straw. As I gave the thumbs up to my Plum as he stood before the church, I realized I wasn’t just saying good job to him but also affirming with he was doing was good and right and beautiful. And I was agreeing to stay course, to keep walking towards the altar myself. Sunday is coming.







Thank God it is Friday, a familiar refrain, one so common even a chain restaurant selected it as the name to draw folks in. Depending on our age, the dawning of the sun on Friday morning might be greater or lesser cause for rejoicing but we all know still that Friday is THE day. School-aged children know the weekend is here, no more waking and dressing and rushing to eat and brush teeth as mom pushes us on to the next thing, the next, hurry hurry out the door. When I was in college we started celebrating Friday on Thursday night, such was the magnitude of the day. (Wonder I even graduated, that might be a different post.) As we enter our working years, family years, the day takes on a different meaning. The weekend holds a chore list that never gets done but still, we rejoice that we have more time with family as we cross of to-do’s and move a bit slower getting up in the morning and go to soccer practice and gymnastics and the grocery store. For retiree’s the days somewhat run together, I know, yet attaching meaning to Friday happens as the group gathers for cards and all the meetings are held at church throughout the week, maybe Friday is left lonely. Still, clearly representing a celebration, a time to rejoice that the hard stuff of the work week is behind and the weekend is ahead, it resonates among those who just need to relax and let go. The phrase means catching up on sleep, lingering over coffee, dining out with friends, attending to chores, ultimately the time is now ours, no longer slaves to the work week. TGIF! Whew, we made it through another week of school lunches and backpacks on the right kid and carpools and deadlines. We can slow down, after work on Friday.

TGIF means we still have to go to school, work, carpool, those last meetings for the day. It isn’t quite the weekend. We can look ahead, we can see it, we know it is coming but we still have to get through one more day. Maybe Fridays are more palatable this way, even though some drag out minute by minute as we wait for the bell to ring, the time clock to hit 4 or 5 or the last guest to leave so we can. We can’t start our celebration until we get through Friday. Actually, it makes me wonder why the saying isn’t Thank God it is Saturday. Full on rejoicing, no waiting. No anticipating.  But we are impatient people, we struggle to be where we are, never quite settling in. We look past this moment to what is ahead. Thus we celebrate the day that means the ending of the week even though that doesn’t end until the end the day.  Getting a little ahead of ourselves, I think. Much like my desire to rush through the crucifixion of Jesus to get to the resurrection.

I have struggled to explain to non-Christian friends just why we call this day Good Friday.  A bit of research says maybe it comes from a belief that this was the fulfillment of the Good News, the Gospel. Or maybe a shortening of God’s Friday, as we like to butcher language when we make it our own. Still, as a child, Good Friday meant just another day out of school, a break to get ready for the Easter bunny. As an adult, I have come to know that this date on the calendar is the real Black Friday, a day of deep sorrow. I know that this day is nothing to rejoice about, that I am so absolutely sinful that Jesus had to die a horrific death, to be shamed and humiliated and pierced and mocked, that each wound might absorb my sins in order for me to ever get accepted into grace. He was left hanging on the cross we wear on necklaces. He bleed out his humanity and became one with God fully again, all for me. What is good about that? Oh yes, it is amazing that He did that for me but that I would need it to be so? That I wouldn’t recognize Him in my midst? Well, I can say I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have helped fashion the crown of thorns, but can I be sure? Honestly, I can’t say I wouldn’t have been part of the crowd cheering as He walked by with His cross, is my sinful nature any different now?

Jesus died for me so long ago, before I came into being because HE knew I would judge and scorn and walk by those who need what I have and forget to visit those in prison and I would say hurtful things and become too righteous to offer grace to those who hurt me. He carried that cross and agreed to die on it because He was surrounded by disciples who no longer believed in Him even though He spent 3 years teaching them and He knew that even though I had a lifetime learning about I him, I would still be a sinner. How could He even bear the weight of the cross as He carried all of my sins too? Good Friday, I think not. This day I will sit with myself and consider the ways that I have squandered His sacrifice. I will sit in my solitude knowing He truly knew me before I knew Him. Nothing really to celebrate there, He didn’t call from the cross that He was doing this for all but Lisa who just wasn’t going to need such a horrific death in His name because she was going to have it all together.

No, this Friday truly is horrible, still I thank God for it. I thank God for the opportunity to slow down and consider how I can do better, be better that such a horrific sacrifice is worthy. I heard a friend say the other day something about wondering if our kids ever truly understand and appreciate all that we do for them. The answer is usually no, not until they themselves have children and sit through sleepless nights and struggle until the next paycheck and find themselves no longer so cool as their kids keep secrets and grow tall enough to look them in the eye. Do we ever fully understand what Jesus gave up for us? The very nature of our humanity seems to mean we have a cap on our empathy, a limited ability to walk in any shoes but our own. Today is the day we can choose to go barefoot and walk with Jesus as He carried that cross and wore that crown of thorns and was pierced and given vinegar to drink. He was carrying me that day, in the hopes that one day I just might get it and carry someone else.

So I am left with TGIF, today, Good Friday. I do thank God for this day, not for the weekend ahead and Easter dinner and colored eggs. I can’t get ahead of myself. Today I have to sit with Jesus on the cross, it’s the least I can do, He is hanging there for me. He calls me into that space with Him, that I might know that while He knows my sins, He also considers me worthy of what He is experiencing. What He is feeling, the pain, the shame, the agony. I am worth it all. Like a hero rushing into a burning building to save a child, that life is now weighty, must be lived with purpose. Regardless of what the world may say, Jesus has whispered from the cross to me, “Lisa, you are worthy. Now go tell others the same. And feed them.” Maybe the restaurant name makes sense after all.

May you be filled with some sorrow for Jesus and our humanity today, that we might not celebrate too soon without knowing fully the loss and what the cost was. May you hear the whisper of Jesus as HE tells you are worthy of his death, as He asks you to love yourself and your neighbor. Let’s make this a really Good Friday.