Good Friday

The Storm ComethSometimes I think the only thing that’s good about Good Friday is the stark honesty and hard reality it represents. Good Friday is a time for truth-telling and there’s nothing trivial about the events of that day.

Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve read the biblical account of that day. I invite you to reacquaint yourself with the story here. I’ve selected a modern translation alongside a traditional translation. It’s long, but well worth the read! (Don’t get so engrossed that you forget to come back here!)

There is nothing nice and neat and tidy about Good Friday, or even the Easter story. And it’s not meant to be because there is nothing nice and neat and tidy about life! There are plenty of moments of beauty and wonder and joy in life. But where we really struggle and have our questions are in the cracks where we encounter pain and grief and uncertainty. When we ready in-between the lines of this passage, those are some of the same questions we ourselves ask.

Why does Jesus let himself be tormented?

Which power group is more responsible for Jesus’ death – the religious leaders or the political leaders?

This same crowd that hailed him with palms on the first day of the week is the same crowd that is screaming for his execution. What’s with that?

Why does Pilate still sign off on Jesus’ execution even though he says Jesus is innocent?

A handful of women remain at the foot of the cross during those agonizing hours of dying. Where are his faithful friends?

And when we’re done asking questions about the passage, we start in on the deeper, hidden questions in our lives.

Whether unexpected or anticipated, how do I deal with the gaping loss of someone I love? 

Will my son self-destruct or will he accept his mental illness? How will I make peace with any of this?

How do I cope with the losses inherent in aging or illness or when I can no longer work?

Will I ever be accepted for who I really am? Will I be safe because of who I am?

What is so amazing about the Good-Friday-gone-devastating-Friday is the transformative work of God. God works in and through vulnerability and weakness through the door of new life. The truth of Good Friday is that suffering love has transformative powers that the “executioners” never suspected.

We know the outcome of Good Friday in Easter. But those who were there, did not know what would happen. And even then, they did not have a clue what it meant or what they were supposed to do. They lived through the mystery. And so do we.

God did not abandon Jesus in his greatest hour of suffering and need. And God will not abandon us in ours. When we feel as though we can go no further or endure anymore, when we are certain of being crushed by the weight and enormity of all that we face, God whispers “It is finished” in our ear. Simple. Honest. Good.

The Wonder of Pain

Most Colofrul View of Universe_FotorEighteen hours had passed since my total shoulder replacement. It was 2:00 AM and I was looking out over Sacramento neighborhoods toward the Sierra Nevada foothills from my 14th floor window at the UC Davis Medical Center. It was quiet and quite dark. The crescent moon had not yet risen. I was watching for shooting stars.

I was also thinking about pain.

At eighteen hours post-op, I was still fairly uncomfortable. The local given to me during surgery had long worn off and the nerve block inserted to help alleviate pain afterward wasn’t particularly effective. Pain medication, including Tylenol, cause me to go into cardiac arrest, so I’m pretty much left up to my own resources. Although I’ve honed my pain practice, I still cannot sleep when I’m this uncomfortable.

What do you do when you cannot sleep? I think.

I began thinking about pain. What is pain? How do we define pain? What kinds of pain are there? What is the purpose of pain? And I started exploring the purpose of pain and all the reasons we usually think of for pain.

And then I saw a shooting star! It was way off in the distance, but I watched it as it arced from the heavens to earth. It was a little gift, just for me as I lay awake in the middle of the night in a hospital room. It was wondrous.

Then it hit me. There is a wonder aspect to pain too. The pain I was experiencing at that moment was the result of the wonders of medical technology. The wonder that new metal parts would relieve me of the pain of bone grinding on bone. The wonder that this pain during recovery would gradually fade away. That the permanent pain I’ve been experiencing for the past several years will be virtually gone. That this pain I have post-op and that I will have during the recovery process is temporary. This temporary pain is the path away from permanent pain.

There is a lot we can learn from pain, especially about ourselves. It’s just nice to have a more positive context, for a change, in which to contemplate a subject which most people go to great lengths to avoid. I, for one, would rather step into the world of wonder.

Photo credit: Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a comprehensive picture of the evolving universe – among the most colorful deep space images ever captured by the 24-year-old telescope.