On Friday, I attended my church's Good Friday service. It was a very simple service and I didn't anticipate that there would be anything special about it. In all honesty, I showed up to go through the motions.
The service was basically just reading through the events of Friday, straight from Scripture and then finishing up with our lectionary prayers, which were to be led by me.
I decided to close my eyes as the Scriptures were being read, in play form. Different individuals from the congregation took on roles and read from their seats when their character was speaking. As they read, pictures were forming vividly in my mind: Jesus bloody, mocked, bruised. Simultaneously, as I heard the words about Jesus hanging between the two prisoners being mocked and accused of things that weren't true, I thought about my friend's daughter who that very week had been mocked, harassed and demeaned by a bully at school. I was caught up in the realization that Jesus not only loved the mockers in that moment, but He also hung there to experience the rejection that His children would continue to experience even today.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
As the service went on, I happened to open my eyes and saw my pastor walking across the front of the sanctuary. He went and stood before the candle that represents the presence of Jesus and when, "'It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and gave up His spirit," our pastor blew the candle out. The presence of Jesus was metaphorically extinguished.
I was profoundly struck at that moment and the weight of what it meant laid heavy on me. In that moment, everyone's hopes and dreams that Jesus truly was the Messiah went out. The people then didn't have the answer, they didn't have the next page in the book. All they had was darkness, hopelessness and despair. They did not have the hope of the resurrection and the God they thought they knew was no longer.
As the darkness of that moment crept over me, it made me realize that there are some today who still feel that darkness and despair. They've had the candle blown out. Situations and circumstances of life have brought that darkness, heaviness and confusion of the unknown. The God they thought they knew did not show up in the way they expected him to show up. Personally, I've stood in front of a grave and have felt the tears of that darkness, hopelessness and despair.
The Scriptures continued until Jesus was laid in the tomb and after that point, I was to lead prayer. In faltering words, I prayed forth the words I've said many times before but they were being shaped and carried in a new way.
One: A recognition that without the resurrection the words that I was praying were meaningless. I have no hope of any of my prayers being answered or heard apart from the reality that Jesus is alive. All my faith truly does rest on that reality.
Two: Those that I was praying for: the hungry and the homeless, the destitute and the oppressed, the sick the wounded, the lonely were most likely experiencing that darkness. Many of those words were attached to real people, real faces, real situations. I knew and know that they've and are experiencing the darkness of that moment and they need the reality of the resurrected Jesus in their lives. But sometimes, yes, there is a waiting, like we were being asked to wait between Good Friday and Easter morning Sunday.
Three: For the sorrowful and bereaved. Again, my mind went to the scene when my niece was no longer there. My heart and prayers went up for the loved ones I know that experienced similar loses and whose hearts are as heavy as the darkness felt on that day.
As we left the sanctuary, one of our members who was going to miss church on Sunday, was quietly walking up to people and whispering, "Happy Easter." I thought it was a perfect ending to the service. In the midst of the darkness, the despair, the turmoil the secret was being eked out, "Happy Easter." While our Easter moments may not always be two days away, our Redeemer does indeed live. For me, I recognized in a new and profound way that all of our hopes and fears are truly dependent upon that single moment, Easter.
Perhaps due to the circumstances in your life, Easter morning was not able to be a joyous moment. If so, may I quietly whisper to your heart, "Happy Easter?" If yes, may you know He is able to hold you in the darkness because He has entered there, too yet overcame. In that fact, you can rest your heart.