On April 2, 2021, twenty of us gathered on Zoom to mark Good Friday. Below are some of my remarks and my Reflection — Ian * Video of the Zoom gathering
Good morning and welcome to this Good Friday service. My name is Rev. Ian Kellogg; and I am the minister of Mill Woods United in Edmonton. Thank you for gathering on Zoom this morning.
During the last year, the church has used Zoom for many meetings and gatherings. But this is the first time we use it for Worship; and so, I hope there are no technical glitches. I also request that you stay muted except when I open the floor for sharing.
And even though Zoom facilitates small groups in Breakout Rooms, we are going to wait until after the Easter Sunday service to offer a virtual Coffee Hour, after the Sunday livestream. Today, we will leave this Zoom gathering in silence, just as we would if we were meeting in person in the sanctuary.
You may recall that on Good Friday last year, I livestreamed a brief service from home. This was the first time I presided in worship from home and the only time I used Facebook Live without the able assistance of Brian Sampson or another volunteer. Today, as the pandemic drags on deeper into its second year, I have decided to lead this service from home again and to use Zoom this time since it allows us to interact in real time and because it doesn’t come with the same restrictions as Facebook or YouTube in terms of the use of music and video files.
There have been several silver linings in the pandemic, and these include our use of technologies like Zoom. At the same time, I know I am not alone in feeling a heaviness as we face still more months of disease, fear, and public health restrictions. This spring feels to me like a long Holy Saturday in which are suspended between the fear and death of Good Friday and Easter Sunday’s promised hope for new life. Perhaps we can bring some of that heaviness and that hope to this Good Friday remembrance and reflection.
Friends, today is a sacred day, one which we may both fear and cherish, and I offer a heart-felt welcome to each of you to this short time of worship
Other than an opening and closing prayer, our gathering will consist of a music video followed by a reflection. Last Sunday at Mill Woods United we marked Palm/Passion Sunday and celebrated communion; and during that gathering we heard not only Mark’s story of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but also his version of the crucifixion of Jesus. Today, I will touch on the themes of that latter story, but not focus on it.
I pray this brief spiritual gathering will echo with some of our experiences of loss and sadness and help us be present to a Spirit of Love in the ups and downs of life. I hope it will prepare us for the good news of Easter Sunday when Jesus’ tomb is found empty . . .
Introduction to “Hurt” by Johnny Cash
This morning instead of a reading, I am going to present a music video featuring Johnny Cash. Cash made this video in February 2003 just a few months before his death. As we watch and listen to it, I hope you will notice the ways in which the images, the lyrics, and the music contain echoes of Good Friday.
The song that Cash performs, “Hurt,” was written in 1994 by Trent Reznor, the leader of the U.S. rock band Nine Inch Nails. Cash’s cover version of “Hurt” is highly regarded. In fact, in 2011 the editors of the British journal “New Musical Express” named it the greatest music video all time.
Since I first stumbled on “Hurt” a few years ago, I have wanted to use it in a Good Friday service, and this year, Zoom allows this to happen. So, without further ado, here it is.
Many things impress me about this music video. Four years before it was made, Johnny Cash was diagnosed diabetes and with Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and he died eight months later in September of 2003. So, Cash was well-aware of his mortality as he recorded the music in 2002 and as he worked on the video in 2003.
His wife, June Carter, was also not well. She was living with heart disease, and she herself died three months after the video was produced.
The video is a rare instance of a performer confronting their imminent death head on. Who knows why Cash recorded a cover of “Hurt”? Maybe it was a producer’s idea, or a friend’s, or June’s, or perhaps his own. Regardless, he recorded the song – and in the video, the decision was made to connect the pain and regret of the song to images of Jesus on Good Friday as he is nailed to a cross.
Of course, the video does not give a complete exposition of the Way of Cross or a rounded theology of Good Friday. But I appreciate how it connects our pain as individuals, our memories of happiness and regret, and our own mortality with the story of the death of Jesus almost 2,000 years ago.
There are innumerable reasons to be drawn to the stories of Jesus, such as the teachings found in the gospels; and the path the call of Jesus asks us to walk. For me, the heart of it all is found in Good Friday and its stark confrontation with death.
Death is inevitable, of course, both for individuals and for all human institutions. But most of the time, we try not to confront this reality because of how it affronts our egos and our illusions in idols like money, power, or empire.
Good Friday, by pushing our attention close to the losses and pain of life and the inevitability of death, gives me confidence in the Way of Jesus. The process of dying is often scary and painful. But the Good News reminds us that death can also be a path to renewal, to springtime, and to new life in Christ; it can remind us that the thing whose loss we most fear – our precious self – is a key barrier to our liberation, healing, and joy.
Because Good Friday affronts our egos and other idols, it can help us move into the gracious space of an empty tomb on Easter morning. In this gracious space, the Love we call God beckons to us to enter an eternal life of Love that transcends ego, nationalism, and other idols.
Just by marking Good Friday, or reading a passionate story, or watching an affecting video will not heal us, of course. But they can point the way – into the heart of life and love, where we find both loss and meaning; and where, with Jesus as a companion, we might walk into a gracious reality that, by encompassing death, shows us who we really are – beings of life, light and love far beyond the small selves of our egos and the petty ambitions of our empires of dirt.
In his video, Johnny Cash confronted the hard part – the inevitability death, the pain of regret; and the power of the challenging emotions all this arouses.
Today, we too confront the hard part. Two days from now, on Easter morning, we will celebrate the easy part – how from death, whether of the body, or ego, or an empire, new life shines forth without effort and with endless joy.
On Good Friday, we try to confront what is dying within our hearts; we try to discern what is dying in society during the pandemic; and we confront how we might cope with these dying processes. What comfort can we bring to ourselves and one another in our pain? And how can we keep hope alive during a dark night of the soul?
May we remember that Jesus is with us in the painful work of dying. The agony we sometimes feel is like the agony he expresses on the cross. The grief we experience is like the grief expressed by Jesus’ mother Mary, his companion Mary of Magdala, and his friends, on a Friday so long ago.
This Good Friday, I am glad we have joined as fellow pilgrims in a beloved community of faith along with people in other churches, synagogues, mosques, and secular spaces all around this groaning but beautiful world. We are not alone.
Today as we commemorate pain and death and as we wait in prayer and hope for Easter morning, may we find the courage to cope in a world that can seem like a never-ending Good Friday or an endless Holy Saturday.
Dear friends, rest assured that the peace of Christ is already here, that the love of God is our source and destiny, and that the companionship of the Holy Spirit is with us, now and always.