Saturday, March 19, 2016

Death surrounds us; a Friday story

When I visited Facebook this morning, it was to find unexpected sorrow: announcements of deaths of people I don't even know directly, yet deeply saddening me all the same (one, the wife of a college friend whom I haven't seen in years; two, the newborn baby of two friends from a years-ago small group; and every day I wonder what news will come from my girlfriend's aunt, who is in hospice care).

I remember last year around Easter writing about how pervasive death was then, too. Maybe it is year-round. Maybe I'm just noticing death more because Easter is next week, and Easter is all about death.

Recently I read (listened to) a book called "Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus" by John Ortberg. In one of the later chapters he talks about Friday stories, and three-day stories, and some of the quotes are beautiful:

All three-day stories share a structure. On the first day there is trouble, and on the third day there is deliverance. On the second day there is nothing, just the continuation of trouble. The problem with third-day stories is you don't know it's a third-day story until the third day. When it's Friday, when it's Saturday, as far as you know, deliverance is never going to come. It may just be a one-day story, and that one-day of trouble may last the rest of your life.


Some people, silently, secretly, live here [Friday]. You can choose denial, simplistic explanations, impatience, easy answers, artificial pleasantness, hydroplane over authentic humanity, forced optimism, clich├ęd formulas, false triumphalism. Paul wrote to Timothy that "some say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." In other words, apparently some said, "it's already Sunday. The resurrection has already happened for all of us, so if you're having any problems, if you're still sick, if your prayers aren't being answered, you just don't have enough faith. Get with the program!" Or there is this third option. You can wait. Work with God even when he feels far away. Rest. Ask. Whine. Complain. Trust. Oddly, the most common song is the song of complaint, the Saturday song: "God why aren't you listening?"


The miracle of Sunday is that a dead man lives. The miracle of Saturday is that the eternal Son of God lies dead. So Jesus Christ defeats our great enemy, Death, not by proclaiming his invincibility over it, but by submitting himself to it. If you can find this Jesus in a grave, if you can him in death, if you can find him in hell, where can you *not* find him? Where will he *not* turn up?

- "Who Is This Man" by John Ortberg, Chapter 14

I said earlier that Easter is all about death. It's all about life, too, of course - that is why 8 days from now we will dance and sing and shout for joy as we remember a miracle two millennia old. But I worry that in our post-Sunday mentality, we minimize the reality of the pain of Friday. Because even though Sunday's coming, when it's still Friday, hearing that Sunday is around the corner doesn't make things magically better. The pain is real, now, here, this moment.

In my post-AWAKEN years, when Easter comes around I end up longing for more time between Friday and Sunday to mourn, to wear all black, to feel all the emotions of loss. I long for this because even my favorite church services of the year - the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Vigil of Easter - will resurrect Jesus on Saturday night, minimizing the time He spends in the grave. This is good, I suppose - who doesn't want to minimize pain and sorrow and suffering? But at the risk of reading too much into it, I feel like we've lost, churchy-culturally, the willingness to sit patiently in the midst of that sorrow, and if we aren't willing to sit in it while we wait for Jesus, how can we honestly sit with those who've lost a loved one, or a relationship, or a job, or any other loss, and not try to rush them through their grief? Sunday's coming, yes, but I don't want to lose the power of Friday and Saturday.

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. - Job 2:11-13

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