I love rocking chairs. Whenever I go on retreat, as I did last week, I hope that they have a rocking chair at the retreat house. Generally, when I am rocking away I do not have a care in the world. But during my recent retreat my soothing rocking chair experience was ruined when I began contemplating Good Friday.
Quite frankly, I hate Good Friday. It’s dreary and dark. There’s the cross and the blood and the whipping and the people calling for Jesus to die. There’s the lance through Jesus’ side and the falling on the road and the Pietà, where Jesus’ body is handed over to his mother, Mary — what torture for any mother to see her son like that!
No, Good Friday is not a comfortable wooden rocking chair kind of day. It is an uncomfortable wooden cross kind of day.
Maybe that’s why our pews are uncomfortable most of the time. Hard wooden benches build character, or at least that’s what the nuns used to tell us in Catholic school. And perhaps they were right. Because if I can’t be uncomfortable while looking at the cross on Good Friday — then why should I ever look at it? Why should I ever look and see that Jesus died for us and know that he died not merely for our sins but rather because God decides to love us despite them?
Jesus ends up on that cross because he loved too much. He loved the lepers and the poor and that woman caught in adultery. He ate with sinners; and those he held in greatest esteem, his friends, all left him when the going got tough. Only Peter was brave enough to get all the way to the high priest’s courtyard. And even with all of that bravery, Peter denies he even knows him.
That scary cross
That scary wood of the cross… Peter was afraid of it too. He knew the cross is where he would end up if he admitted to being one of Jesus’ followers, the one who cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear.
It makes sense to me that the disciples and especially Peter would fear the cross, but what are we afraid of? Don’t we know that Jesus rose from the dead? Don’t we know that the cross is not a symbol of destruction but one of transformation and new life? Don’t we know that following Jesus allows us to be more fully alive?
Or do we think that following Jesus just might get us in a bit of… trouble?
If we let the homeless sleep on our front porch, won’t our neighbors complain?
If we take in a pregnant teen who has nowhere to turn, won’t that inconvenience our own families?
If we really care about those who are going hungry in our own country, never mind those in poorer parts of the world who have it much worse, won’t we lose a whole lot of sleep over that?
No, I choose comfort on Good Friday — and every day for that matter — because I like being in my rocking chair, comfortable and carefree.
But it is only when I get up out of that rocking chair that I ever dare to grow up and dare to be in relationship with others and, more importantly, love them when it’s hard to do so. Adults understand that relationships take work and call us to claim responsibility for others. This deep caring can take you beyond the boundaries of where you might be comfortable, to places that are indeed sometimes uncomfortable and downright scary.
For myself, at times I end up alongside my mother, who now needs me to rock her to sleep or simply hold her hand in her anxious old age. In our economic downturn, I could be called to the neighbor who needs a loan just to make ends meet. And we all could and should be called to the baby who is waiting to be born but whose mother is too racked with fear to even consider bringing her own child into the world.
Embracing our discomfort
Embracing our cross, the things that we think will tie us down and paralyze us in our own discomfort, is often what changes us and, indeed, can change the world. Without the cross the world never grows up. Without facing our uncomfortable moments we never reach beyond ourselves to become greater than we ever thought we could be. Without stretching out our arms to each other — we never grow in relationship, sensitivity or love. Without feeling pain we never grow stronger in defeating it the next time or understanding the pain of another. Simply put, we never grow up. We stay down, rocking and rocking, infants in our mothers arms.
The painful wood of the cross finds us anyway, but we still try to avoid it at all costs, don’t we? So, if we cannot even look at it on Good Friday of all days — how can we ever embrace it and go to where Jesus is calling us as adults, to transform ourselves and serve the needs of the world? To do any of this we need the eyes of faith… to be confident that Jesus’ cross is not merely a sign of death but one that leads to new life.