Life Dies! – Holy FridayFr. Barnabas Powell
Grief has a way of blinding us to everything else around us. I remember a particularly dark time in my own life where a dear and wise man warned me of making important decisions during this time of grief in my life. He knew what I couldn’t in that sad and scary place; grief blinded me to perspective and a sober head. The pain was intoxicating and made my own ability to see clearly nothing but the tunnel vision of my own fear. The only answer to grief is to pass through it.
But pass through it we must.
Our lives are littered with times of grief and darkness that always threaten to swallow us whole. We weep and the tears make it hard to see anything but our pain and sorrow. Not a very good time to make life decisions!
Today, we go with Jesus to the Cross and the Tomb. Last night we processed the Cross through our parishes. We heard the pain of loss and even the Mother of God asking “Why are You in a hurry, my Son?” Today we weep at the cross of the Lord and remove His life-giving Body from the Cross and wrap it in a new cloth and go with Him to His life-giving Tomb. There we mourn Him, even though we know what happens next. All the prayers, the hymns, and the movements and imagery evoke such feelings and powerful images that stay with us from year to year. We are at that moment when even creation mourns the death of Life Himself.
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 27:62-66:
Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
You see, it was no secret that Christ had promised to defeat death. Even the Lord’s enemies realized this teaching. They even hatched a plan to keep it from happening! Yeah, good luck with that!
But the Lord’s disciples were filled with fear and sadness. Their pain and sorrow drowned out the memory of the Lord’s promise that He would rise again. In their grief and sadness, they dare not let their hearts hope for such a joy. Besides, if the authorities killed their master, surely the government would come for them next. In this sadness and fear, our Lord’s followers simply couldn’t risk believing in a promise of joy. Their grief overwhelmed their faith.
And that is always the danger of grief and sorrow. It smothers faith and hope. But only if we let it. Yes, we have it within our control to hold two amazingly different ideas together in times of grief; especially this side of the Resurrection of Jesus. The twin truths of the reality of our pain AND the indisputable Truth of His Victory over death! No longer can grief swallow joy, not since our greatest enemy has been conquered by a loving God. In the light of Pascha we read St. Paul: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Today, on this Holy and Great Friday, we witness the worst humanity can do: attempt to kill God. Their worst is no match for His love and His life. The momentary difficulties of our lives; the fear of death; the sadness of grief; all swallowed up in Life, His Life. Hell has been burst from the inside out. The grave has been emptied of its power to terrorize. All our worst fears and grief have been transformed, if we will, by the Light of a conquering Savior and His eternal life-giving death. So, soon we will sing in the face of such horror, fear and sadness, Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life! The way is open for all of us to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. May the Lord bless and keep you as we spend these final hours preparing for that “night that is brighter than the day!” We will be receiving several people into the Orthodox Church tomorrow on Holy Saturday and I ask your prayers for all of them as they embrace this fullness of the Christian Faith. God bless all our catechumens as they continue their journey!