Is it easier to believe Good Friday or Easter? Is it easier to believe in Good Friday and the betrayal, abandonment, suffering and death of Jesus on the cross or Easter and the resurrection of our Lord?
For the first followers of Jesus, it’s clear that believing in Good Friday was a lot easier than believing in the resurrection. The disciples knew that they hadn’t stayed awake with Jesus; Judas betrayed his friend and teacher with a kiss; Peter carried the burden of having denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed; only the women and the Beloved Disciple had the courage to stand at the foot of the cross. But what they all knew with certainty was that Jesus was surely, truly and painfully dead. They had not risen up in rebellion against the Roman and religious elites and God had not intervened to save him. Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, the one hailed as the Son of David, the Messiah—Jesus was dead.
Easter morning when the Marys went to the tomb, they did not go with any hope that Jesus had risen from the dead. His words that he would rise after three days had been obliterated by the devastating loss of his arrest and crucifixion. They went to tend his broken body since preparations had been rushed on Friday as they hurried to get him off the cross and into the tomb before sundown and Sabbath prayers.
The women did not come to the tomb anticipating an earthquake and a fearsome angel, and they surely did not come expecting to see the risen Lord. After all, what are the first words spoken by the angel and then again spoken by Jesus: “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid”—those famous God words that mean watch out, all that you know to be true and familiar is about to be turned upside down. Fear not—he is risen and will go ahead to meet you in Galilee; go and tell the others to meet him there.
And so, the women head off filled with “fear and great joy” to tell the others. Of course, the disciples aren’t all immediately on board. Some want to go check for themselves. Some just want to go home and get back to their old and familiar lives before Jesus opened their hearts to the Kingdom Way. Some aren’t willing to believe until they themselves have actually seen the risen Lord. And Thomas declares that he won’t believe until he has put his fingers into the wounds.
Clearly, Jesus’ closest friends and followers found it easier, more comfortable and familiar to give in to despair—to live with the devastating loss of hopes and dreams—than to imagine that God really could bring life out of death. And we all have no trouble understanding and voting with them. Yes, it is easier to believe in Good Friday than Easter.
Surely, this week in Lynn, as our community has been shaken by the murder of Lynn Tech student Amoy Blake, we experienced the pain of the cross. Murder, gun violence, robbery, gangs, judgment, revenge, pain, loss, regret, anger, sorrow—we can all add our own words and descriptions as we remember the death of a young man who died too violently and too soon. Friday morning, when our annual Good Friday Teen Brunch became a gathering for more than 200 teenagers, they remembered the gift Amoy had been to them—wearing crazy colors, dancing, making them laugh, cheering them up when they were sad, helping them with their school work, being their friend. And, they challenged one another to turn from gangs and violence, to stay in school, to get jobs, to make a difference, to spare other mothers the pain of losing their sons, to make sure that Amoy did not die in vain.
Our front fence this morning wears an abundance of brightly colored zip-ties. On Friday, youth minister Jason Cruz invited the teens to attach a flash of brightness to the fence as they offered their own words of gratitude for Amoy, and as a reminder—every time they walk by—that they have the power to choose life or to choose death. They can stay in the Good Friday world of judgment, betrayal, abandonment, violence and death or they can make a new way. The zip-ties decorate the fence as visible signs of our hope and our Easter faith. We believe that darkness, despair and death are overcome through the life and love of Jesus.
The challenge for those teens and for all of us is how do we hold onto hope? How do we live believing in the possibility of new life in the face of all the painful realities of our lives and our world? How do we resist Good Friday’s attraction to resignation, impotence, anger, despair and sorrow? How do we live resurrection opening our hearts, souls, minds and bodies to living expectantly and joyfully every day? How do we embody God’s light and love? How do we let God make all things new in us and through us?
Many of you know that I try to spend 24 hours a month with the [Society of St. John the Evangelist] monks in Cambridge or West Newbury—24 hours of silence to slow down and listen for God. The monks were expecting me the Thursday before Palm Sunday. The date had been on my calendar since last summer but I was overwhelmed with all the usual Holy Week and Easter preparations, long lists of phone calls to return and e-mails to send, grant application and reports, visits to make to people who were having a hard time—my list was endless and days not long enough to get it all done. I kept thinking, if I cancel with the monks I’ll have another day to get stuff done… life will be less stressful… I should just cancel.
But I’ve learned that the months when I feel the greatest need to cancel and keep working are the months when I most need to go and spend my time in silence and prayer. Friday morning after Eucharist, I headed out for a walk along the Charles River. As a Virginia girl who lives for spring and the blooming of flowers, I delighted in the Scylla and daffodils springing up along the path. All I could think was: If I hadn’t come I would have missed these most amazing flowers. I marveled at the fact that they had all been buried under snow and ice when I walked the same path in March. But here they were—a show of royal blue and yellow dancing in the breeze.
And then I thought: But isn’t this how it always is with God? God is always present—reaching, touching, showing, pointing, dancing, laughing, comforting, holding, hugging. It’s just that we are often too busy, or distracted, or depressed, or pre-occupied or set on doing it our own way to notice God’s presence. Truth is, while I may be too caught up in my life, my world, my plans, my celebrations and my sorrows that I don’t notice, God is always there.
As I continued to walk rejoicing in God and the magnificence of daffodils and Scylla, I noticed a sheet of white paper tacked to a tree. I don’t know what made me stop to look at the paper, which surely advertised an upcoming event or a lost dog. But there, on the top of the page, were the words: “A Prayer in Spring” by Robert Frost. I felt as though God had just reached out and grabbed me. I’d never heard of or read the poem before but there it was—pure and holy gift.
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;/ And give us not to think so far away/ As the uncertain harvest; keep us here/ All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,/ Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;/ And make us happy in the happy bees,/ The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird/ That suddenly above the bees is heard,/ The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,/ And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,/ The which it is reserved for God above/ To sanctify to what far ends He will,/ But which it only needs that we fulfill.
What I know today—most especially after the days of this hard Holy Week—is that it is undoubtedly easier to believe in Good Friday than Easter. In fact, Good Friday will grab us and hold us tight unless we open our eyes, let go of our need to be in control, face into our fear, and allow God’s love to break our hearts open. God is present in spring flowers, in brightly colored zip-ties, in the community of the church, in God’s work of justice and in the imperfect love of family and friends. All God asks is that we open ourselves to God and trust that God will make all things new. New life may not come in a dramatic moment of angelic revelation making us whole and holy; rather, it may emerge through a slow journey of healing and transformation. But God’s promise is that God will be present and God will bring abundant life.
Yes, we can believe in Easter even—and most especially—in our Good Friday world. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
--The Rev. Jane Soyster Gould, Rector, St. Stephen's Memorial Church, Lynn. Excerpted from her Easter Day, April 20, 2014, sermon and published with permission.
Opinions expressed in Reflections are those of the writers. Submissions are welcome; all material is subject to editing. Submit Reflections for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.