On Good Friday, each person who finished the stations of the cross took a white carnation and placed it at the foot of a wooden cross that had been erected in the corner of the room in the convention center where we have church.
On its own, the act doesn’t have much meaning. You take a flower–the cheapest flower there is, in fact–from an ordinary bucket. You place it on a piece of fabric that has been draped at the base of the cross, which is made of ordinary wood. It has little in common with the actual cross that Christ was crucified on, but that’s not important. These are all just symbols.
This whole process is symbolic.
The stations of the cross are meant to encourage spiritual reflection. You walk through the stations, reading scripture and reflecting on Jesus’s journey toward death. These reflections are historic and tested by time. They have been meaningful to generations and generations of believers.
The music is beautiful. The lights are low. The stations require you to consider your own faults and doubts. They encourage you to meditate on the imperfections of the world and the sacrifice of Jesus. It’s not just about the theological sacrifice or the idea of atonement. It’s not about knowing whether the story is true or not. It’s just about stopping and thinking about Jesus the man, stumbling toward death.
It’s fifteen or twenty or maybe thirty minutes of reflection and devotion, and then it’s over.
Then you’re out in the lobby, laughing quietly with friends and checking on the baby in his stroller to make sure he’s still asleep.
Then everyone else is done, and you’re the one who has volunteered to take pictures of each station so that your friend, the pastor, can document the event and give visual instructions to whoever is in charge of putting the event together next year.
You’re snapping pictures of things people have written down in private–doubts and fears and questions. You’re watching your friends tear down the stations, because you have all volunteered to be here. The candles are extinguished. The lights come on. The music switches to something else–Macklemore? Something like Macklemore?
You say sure, you’ll take home the extra loaf of unused communion bread. Someone else should take the grape juice. Your family doesn’t drink much grape juice, after all.
The spiritual atmosphere has become one of efficiency and instruction-following. “Wrap these vases in these towels,” and you do as you’re told. The votive candles that fifteen minutes ago represented the death of Jesus are now being throw into the trashcan.
Then you are doing something that you didn’t expect would feel so strange: you and a friend collect the flowers at the foot of the cross and you put them back in the buckets. “This is kind of weird,” you say, looking at the blooms in your hands.
You feel like you are undoing someone’s act of spiritual devotion. You are tearing down someone’s symbolic experience.
What kind of person are you, anyway?
“You’re making bouquets,” your friend says. You look down, and it’s true. In her hands, she has gathered the flowers to place quickly back in the buckets. In your hands, you have put the flowers into an arrangement. She is being efficient and you? What are you doing?
You are an angry person lately. When it was time to write on a little rock what holds you back from embracing your faith wholeheartedly, you wrote, “It’s all so unfair.” It is unfair. Everything. The whole world.
You have a friend who wants a baby, and before the end of the night, you are crying because it’s not fair that she doesn’t have one and you have two. Easter Sunday is the one-year anniversary of a due date for a baby that you never bore. Meanwhile, there are people who murder their children for crying too much. Your husband is sick all the time, and your four-year-old asks, “Will Daddy be better by the time I’m a grown up?” Powerful people use religion to control and to abuse. Families lose their homes in fires. You have students who confide that their friends are being murdered, and their brothers are in jail, and they are just trying to get through their freshman year of college. In 2012, you went to the memorial service of a man who died in his early thirties from brain cancer. Women are assaulted. Your friends are assaulted. You once took one of your best friends by the shoulders and looked her right in the eye and said, “Your daughter is going to be okay because you are her mother, and you are everything she needs.” You had to say that because your friend was divorcing her husband, who was a bad person and a bad father and nothing less than a predator, and both your friend and her daughter had been his prey.
There is a lot to be angry about.
Your anger feels like the most spiritually authentic thing in your life.
When you wrote about your anger, people came up to you from the most unexpected places and said, “Me, too. Oh, no one has any idea. Me, too.”
Good Friday is a dark, dark day. There is no joy on Good Friday. The stations of the cross end with an extinguished candle. They end with a flower at the foot of a cross. And then that flower is picked up and thrown back into a bucket, and that’s it. Your symbol has been destroyed.
On Good Friday, Jesus is dead and there is no hope for his followers. On Good Friday, the symbols are empty.
God have mercy.