All around the globe, this past weekend was witness to churches full of well-dressed, singing, dancing, and praising worshippers. Social media probably kept you busy liking all the lovely pictures of family and food and new outfits. Much less prominent in the conclusion of this Holy Week was Good Friday. There’s a reason for that: Friday feels broken. Sometimes we even wonder why we call it “good,” and we also feel that it’s not the end of the story.
There is a very famous sermon that simply declares, with ever-increasing fervor, “It’s Friiii-day! But Sunday’s a-coming!” I’ve heard that sermon preached and, let me tell you, that truth will preach. But haven’t you ever wondered why we call it “Good Friday?” Doesn’t it seem a little odd? If you have ever watched The Passion of the Christ and saw the way that a man was mocked, beaten within a breath of his own life, and left to suffocate in naked shame on full display for all to see – how can you call that good?
It wasn’t. Not by itself.
The only reason we have the audacity to call that unwatchable spectacle “good” is because we made it to the good news of the Sunday that followed. But not everyone has seen that Light. And, even for those who have, the weight of that Friday still comes. You see, there’s a fundamental statement that comes around to all of us just as it did to those on that crucifixion day: “This is NOT how this was supposed to go!”
And again, you’re right. Followers of Jesus left their livelihoods to follow him. Some left their families behind. Those who were healed and those who heard hope began to follow Jesus – there was a Light of Truth that attracted them to him. And they watched him die, if they were brave enough to stay around. In the larger context, God’s people were looking for and hoping to find a political figure who would help them overthrow the oppressive rule of the Romans. And, as the following grew, Jesus rode triumphantly into the city – on a donkey. But then he was arrested. Accused. Given over the will of the crowd. Beaten. And, as we know, he died.
No one around Jesus knew that Sunday was a-coming. Many of them probably wondered if they would even see Saturday. If you are affiliated with a political revolution, and the leader is murdered publicly, it’s pretty safe to say you should run for cover. Deny your involvement. Cry. Worry. Hide your family.
It was not supposed to be like this!
If you have ever said something like that, you know what a Friday experience is like. And, if you are anything like me, you are ready to fight anyone who would dare to call that experience “good” – because it’s not. Not by itself. I remember a class in high school in which a father and mother came to share with us about their experience in grieving their son who died. It stood out to me when they shared that, in their grieving, words of hope often fell flat. When Jesus was fighting for breath on the cross, I can not imagine anyone in that scene whispering, “God works all things out for good…” Even if it’s true, it doesn’t match the context.
One year ago I had a Friday experience. I’ve had several poignant ones in my life, but last year another one hit. An attempt to reconcile my marriage came to an abrupt end, and I found myself with that same statement, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” And I’m right.
I cannot fully explain it here, but every day I encounter some variation of that statement in other people. Take the last ten days as a sample, and I’ve heard of: a fraying marriage, an abortion, an unexpected pregnancy, an imprisonment, a car accident, severe hunger, a broken relationship, a family sleeping in a tent, a call from a mental health facility with a request to help find housing, and a call from jail on Resurrection Sunday. Yesterday was a “light” day of Friday experiences. I only was asked to help feed someone who had not eaten since the day before, made plans to pick up clothing of someone who is in jail, and provided housing to a “non-biological” (that’s how my sons have referred to our affinity to house those in need.)
I have been stuck in a Saturday with hope for a Sunday for over a year. Tonight is the second night in the last year when all three of my sons have been out of the home. It’s exhausting. Saturday experiences are for survival, and that’s what I have been attempting to do as best I can. But I’m ready for a Sunday experience. When someone asked for help last week, I told him that I would do what I can but I’m looking for a miracle myself. I meant it.
That’s the difference for those of us who have made it to Sunday. There are many, many people around us who have not made it that far. They are either still reeling from the broken moments of life or stuck in the survival of the aftermath. It is for those people that we must keep repeating, “Sunday’s a-coming!” They won’t believe you, so just keep holding out that light. Let the light grow. Sunday’s a-coming.
There are three possible conclusions to reach after those Friday moments, and none of them are easy to accept. Our default reaction often seems to be, “God got it wrong.” That’s logical, right? If God is good, all-powerful, and our only hope, it wouldn’t go this way. The second conclusion is one I have wrestled with countless times: “I got it wrong.” This one is the one that isolates us. We blame ourselves or think of what we should have done differently. Sometimes we think that the Friday experience is our punishment. The third conclusion may be the most difficult to accept: “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.” No, that can’t be right. I’m not supposed to be in this broken Friday. I’m not supposed to be in this surviving Sunday. Just, “No.”
But it is.
My hope for a miracle is mostly evident as financial, but that is only the symptom. In the past year, with the loss of an income and the increased responsibility on me, I have struggled. I’ve shared this before. This is not new for those of you who follow me. What is new is that I surrender on trying to figure it out. Sometimes we can conclude that we make our own miracles. We don’t. And I know that I can’t. When the reconciliation attempt ended a year ago, the mother of my sons filed for assistance. For those of you familiar with how our systems are set up, you know that generates a request for support. Because we have an agreement for 50/50 parenting but my income on record is higher, I am ordered to pay support. I’ve been fighting it for months and all that I have experienced are delays. As it stands right now, I’m working 50+ hours a week, trying to provide food and shelter for four teenage boys, and bringing home the pay of roughly 35 hours. Having to make sure that they are covered has never left my mind. The type of work that I can do and the type of parent that I can be is limited by my circumstances. Darkness limits our vision. We can only see what is right in front of us. I am remarkably single (That is not an invitation, just a statement of fact) and I very often feel that I cannot fully be who I could be. That’s the isolation of a survival Saturday. It was not supposed to be like this.
But when we know that Sunday’s a-coming, we press on. Have you ever wondered how long it would have taken for Jesus’ followers to discover his resurrection if it had not been for the women showing up on Sunday? They kept on, proceeding to do what they would have done in spite of what happened on Friday. For those of us who have found that Sunday morning, we must keep telling others around us!
When I think about the people who have shared the gift of their Friday moments with me, all I’ve really wanted to do is let them know that there is hope. If Jesus had only died for your sins, giving you a clean slate here on earth, would that have been enough? No. We need Sunday. If you survived through Saturday, would that be enough? No. We need Sunday. We need the victory over death and sin and brokenness – because all of those things still exist! Believers and seekers, we still have Fridays. We still have Saturdays of surviving. And we press on. We know Sunday is coming. We know miracles happen. That is what Christ does for us. His victory and life lets us know that God did not get it wrong. Christ reminds us that even when we do get it wrong, he is there with us to keep us going. And when Christ is present with us, we know that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. And that truth and the Light of Sunday gets a little brighter.
The reason that I share things like these are twofold: there is a growing host of people in my life who are feeling Friday or stuck in Saturday. It has come to the point where even if I go to Meijer at 2:00am on a Monday, I will encounter someone who needs something to eat and a ride back to his tent home. (I will note that while I was at the stoplight – at 2am – I was next to a car with words of “Jesus is our Lord and Savior” and saw a van from The Good Shepherd church. I laughed. I can’t make this up.) I believe, and I hope, that threads will continue to be woven between those whom I help and those who hear or read my words. Secondly, I share this because you are to me what those in need do not have – a gift and a resource. I’m behind in my mortgage, my gas bill, my light bill, my water bill…and I don’t see how I will catch up. Could I make one phone call to my family and make some of this go away? Yes. Would my story be the same if I did that? No.
The way that you respond to a Friday is exactly the way that Jesus will heal you on a Sunday. If you were afraid on Friday, he will make you bold. If you were mourning on Friday, he will give you joy. If you denied him on Friday, he will make you a proclaimer. If you were alone on Friday, he will surround you with people on Sunday.
All of those are in some way true for me. I was hired into a position where I was told that I would be called “Pastor Doug.” I said, “Oh no…not me!” Right now I cannot see myself doing anything other than preaching or teaching or writing on God’s Word. I have mourned – often – and have many moments of joy. I felt like I lost my voice. I feel it coming back. And, in the middle of the madness of this past year, God has not left me alone. He has surrounded me with a community that I never would have imagined. Right now, at this moment, I am the only one in this house. I can count the number of nighttime hours that I have been alone on two hands for this past year. God knows. He’s in control. We needed Friday so that we can get to Sunday!
As someone who has seen the light of Resurrection Sunday, I am compelled to share that truth with those in the darkness of Friday. Yes, Friday was good – but not by itself. The story needs completion. Christ gives us the opportunity to share his Light every day. The miracle of Resurrection Sunday is the answer to the hopelessness we felt on Friday, and we need to share both our struggle and the hope together.
God got it right, because we couldn’t, and we are exactly where we are supposed to be.