Good Friday, 2018

Different people have different ways f remembering loved ones who have died. When I think of those I have lost in my life, I don’t really think of the day that they died. I can remember the stories of those days. I can remember some details very specifically, even many years after the event, but I don’t particularly remember the dates. I remember the season of the year. I remember other things that were going on in my life at the time, and in many cases I can recall what month it was, but I never put any energy into remembering the exact date. I am not too bad at remembering numbers. I can tell you the phone number our family had when I was growing up and the number of my father’s business. I can remember the dates of birthdays of all of the people in my family, including those who have died. I just don’t remember death dates. It may be that those are days that I didn’t want to remember at the time.

I’ve known people, however, for whom the dates of the deaths of loved ones are seared into their memories and will never be forgotten. For them the anniversary of death dates are significant days. Those anniversaries are rarely easy for those who grieve.

A saint’s day is celebrated on the date of their death. It is, in part, to raise awareness that death is not the end - that life and love and the presence of those who live in Christ remain. Most of the reasons for the practice, however, are things that have been thought up to explain something that we in the church were already doing. No-one really remembers the original thinking or the history of the practice in detail.

In Mexico, Day of the Dead is a national holiday, celebrated at the end of October and the beginning of November. Day of the Dead is actually divided into two distinct holidays, the first being Dide los Inocentes, which is dedicated to children on November 1, known as All Saints Day in much of the rest of the world; and Dide los Muertos on November 2, which is the actual Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls. Celebrations in Mexico often begin a early as October 31. They have drawn together the depth of grief and loss into a single time of the year rather than focus on the individual dates of loss. The tradition, which is spreading to North America as Mexican and Latin populations expand across the continent, generally involves family gatherings. People come together to commemorate and remember those who have died. Visiting, repairing and decorating graves are among the actives observed.

Day of the Dead has many aspects that are similar to family activities on Memorial Day.

Because I live my life immersed in the calendar of the church, I invest energy in All Saints Day every year. I prepare a slide show of those who have died in our church in the past year. I often make calls or visits to those who have lost loved ones in the weeks leading up to All Saints. For those whose memories are more focused on individual dates of loss, my attention can come as a bit of a surprise, but it is rarely unwelcome. People who are grieving do not forget their loved ones and they generally appreciate the opportunity to talk about the one who has been lost and the experience of grief.

Holy Week is another time when I think if the grief that we have together shared. Holy Week has more activities for me than All Saints, which is often recognized not the Sunday closest to November 1 rather than the actual day. Holy Week is a pattern of events that fit into a single week. It is a natural time to think of grief and loss and death and to be reminded that death is not the enemy of human existence. It is a reality of our lives which grows in meaning when we take time to consider that we all will one day face our own deaths. Loss and grief are universal. Everyone experiences them in their own way.

Good Friday doesn’t carry the weight of Easter in the minds of most Christians. Attendance at services on Good Friday is lighter than Easter. The service is more somber. For me, however, recognition of Good Friday enhances the experience of Easter. Life, death and resurrection simply make more sense when considered together.

For the past several years we have divided the Good Friday observances in our church into two distinct events, a bit like the Mexican practice of the Day of the Dead. The first service of the day is specifically aimed at children. We have created a liturgy for the sharing of Holy Communion with young children. Focusing on preschool and elementary children and their understandings of the world, we do not use the blood and body language that is a part of the adult observances, but rather speak of love and abiding presence. We talk about eating and drinking as ways of remembering. The second service is a reading of the scriptures that report the death of Jesus combined with prayers adapted from funeral prayers that have been used in times of grief. Both services are powerful and I anticipate them for weeks before they come.

Today is that day. Like other days, there are tasks that need to be accomplished. I’ve got my usual Friday chores to do. But emotionally, my day focuses on two brief worship services. In those services I allow myself to experience some of the intense emotions of grief and loss. I recall those whose grief is fresh and raw. I share with those who mourn. I marvel at the depth of God’s love that God enters directly into our human experiences of grief. In a sense the concept of incarnation is as intense of Good Friday as it is at Christmas.

Today is that day. May I be open to its richness and depth of meaning.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!