Elise Ashley Hanley
Good Friday – Solemn Liturgy, 30 March 2018
The Passion according to St. John
Trinity on the Green
One piece of advice for life that my parents repeatedly taught me is this: Always go to the funeral. When someone you know dies, always go to the funeral.
Clearly, I am preaching to the choir, for you are all here tonight! You could have gone home on this dreary, rainy, gray Good Friday – put your feet up, and ordered a pizza. Instead, you have shown up – you have come to this holy space to observe the passion – the death – of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We have all come to stand at the foot of the cross: to pray, to sing, and to mourn.
Always go to the funeral.
I followed my parents’ advice begrudgingly. We lived 3 blocks from Dalton’s, the local funeral home, and my mom seemed to always be making me go with her to someone’s wake. It was always awkward. I never knew what to say, and I was usually ignored as a kid, anyway. On the walk home, we’d usually detour through the funeral home’s parking lot. Often times, my mom would find and pluck from the ground a flower that had somehow fallen from a funeral spray – then she’d take it home, and put it in water. I personally found it a most uncomfortable reminder of death.
So I didn’t truly the lesson. Until, that is, the tables were turned. Then everything changed. My father died of pancreatic cancer when I was eight years old. Most of the many faces who came to call on us at that very same funeral home are now a blur in my mind, but one image remains crystal clear in my memory: at the end of my father’s funeral mass, as I processed out behind his coffin, with everyone singing “On Eagle’s Wings…”, I looked up and saw my entire third grade class and teacher there. I can still see the somber, serious, and scared faces of those little children – now grown, my age, but still little children in my memory. It meant so much to me. It still means so much to me. They had shown up. Their presence at my time of grief meant to much.
And we all know – as good as this advice for life may be, we also know that there are times when we just can’t go to the funeral: when the distance is too far, when the airfare is too expensive – or when we know that our presence wouldn’t be welcome. Or, those times when our grief is so overpowering, it paralyzes us.
The disciples of Jesus, his mother Mary, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die a horrible, torturous death. They think all is lost. They worry that they are next. Can you imagine their fear, their pain, their anxiety? Their only saviour – their beloved Jesus – dead upon the cross. Imagine them, huddled together, trembling and stunned. Many, if not all of us, have been there – we’ve experienced such loss. Tonight, we join them in their grief and pain.
At one of my previous parishes, there was a woman who would always come to the Good Friday service, and loudly weep throughout. The first time I witnessed this, I honestly felt awkward, and just wanted to try to console her. The next year, she honestly annoyed me – I was preaching, and trying to keep my homily together in my head, and her weeping was throwing off my focus. It was by the third year, that I realized – she got it right. She understood. She didn’t skip ahead to Easter! And she wasn’t worried about the technicalities of a church service. She was able to truly be present – to be IN Jesus’ story – to be in the moment, and truly grieving Jesus’ death.
My friends, I invite you to consider her example – I invite you tonight into a funerary space. I invite us to drop all pretense, and to be a part of the story. I invite us to feel – even to weep. To grieve the losses that still sting our own hearts. To rage over the injustices that occur in this world, that have occurred to us. And we do it together. Offer a shoulder, or a hand, or a Kleenex to someone around you – offer grace, and offer love. For we have shown up to do this sacred work, and we have shown up for each other’s sake. You have shown up for me, and I have shown up for you.
Let us take our fear, anger, sadness, hope, and love to the cross – – and let us remain there.