Lawrence, Massachusetts is my favorite place to spend Good Friday. St. Mary of the Assumption, a primarily Spanish-speaking parish, has a lot to do with that. Although I only discovered last year what a gran fiesta Fr. Carlos throws for the Easter Vigil (up to three hours long, but worth almost every minute), since the first year of my first stint here back in 2011, I have known about their Good Friday procession through the heart of the city.
Beginning in the church building itself, a cast of mainly young people portrays key moments from the life of Christ, leading up to the inevitable drama of Good Friday. When Jesus picks up his cross, the actors move out into the street, with the crowd spilling out of the parish to follow in a bilingual Stations of the Cross. I seem to remember hearing that around 2,000 people typically participate in this nearly two mile circuit, and many watch a portion from the porches or windows of their own homes.
Lawrence is notorious for its troubles with crime and corruption, but much less known for the many good things that take place here. The reflections interspersed with the prayers spoken throughout this Way of the Cross call to mind the many ways that people suffer in this place while also calling on the traffickers and drug dealers to repent and choose a new life—in some cases in front of their own homes. Indeed, many use the historical sufferings of Christ to remind us of how he continues to suffer through the abuse and neglect of his beloved people throughout the world.
Walking in the procession yesterday, after the ninth station, a 12-year old boy who was walking nearby asked me, “Did this really happen to God?”
How often does the pain of this historic event dim in our hearts because it is a story often told? In spite of the controversy surrounding it, The Passion of the Christ took its great power from helping people to see the suffering of Jesus with fresh eyes. Imagine hearing—or seeing—these events unfold for the first time, before you know the ending. Or rather, when you are even unsure whether or not the story has ended.
The itinerant preacher dies a shameful death and is buried. Some people may remember his predictions of rising again, but he spoke in parables so often, is it naïve to hope this was a prediction of his own Resurrection? Then again, he was able to raise Lazarus…
Too many people in this world are living Good Friday. I think a lot of us are also living Holy Saturday. We are trapped in uncertainty between the loss we have already suffered and the hope we struggle to cling to. For example, think of those keeping vigil over loved ones in the hospital, hoping that some medical treatment will provide relief.
My dad was a young teenager living with his parents in Anchorage, Alaska when the Good Friday earthquake struck in 1964. His dad was out delivering mail that day; my dad and grandmother waited on the fringe of a devastated city, wondering whether he would return. Fortunately, their wait took less than a day—my grandfather returned home that same night.
For me, Holy Saturday is much the same as Advent. We know what has already been suffered, and we’ve been told to expect that all things will be set right. We try so very hard to believe, but sometimes our hope and our skepticism live in the same duplex. So we wait. We hold our breath, we keep busy to pass the time, we go about our daily work, or we do what we can to prepare the way for our hope. I do each of these at different times.
“Did this really happen to God?”
I know what I said. What would you say?
Holy Week ends with Easter joy, but it takes some time to get there. The “ear candy” this week is the best way I could suggest the silence of Christ’s tomb on Holy Saturday, when the world either mourns His death, anticipates His Resurrection, or just wonders. This week’s “brain food” is written by a rabbinic cantor who connects the Passover narrative to the plight of the asylum seekers pursuing their hopes at the southern U.S. border today.
Ear Candy: “4’33”” by John Cage (as performed by the London Symphony Orchestra)
Brain Food: “Connecting the Passover Story to the Border Today” by Vera Broekhuysen
Come back next Saturday for a new post!