Text: Mark 14 and 15 (the trials and crucifixion of Jesus)
“We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world” – or so say the Eeyore’s among us. Every week in church, we proclaim love and new life even as wars rage around us, scoundrels rule the nations, and poverty blights the world.
But then come moments like last Saturday, ones that can amaze even the most jaded, give hope even to the most despairing, and bring the light of Easter even to the darkest Good Friday.
Last Saturday, about one million young people gathered in Washington DC to protest gun violence. Hundreds of thousands more gathered in 800 other cities around the world, including here in Edmonton. The “March for Our Lives” was organized by high school students who had survived a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February, one in which 17 people were murdered.
This mass shooting, like so many others, was a Good Friday moment. Innocent young people were killed just because they live in a country filled with 350 million guns, deep social divisions, and broken communities.
The story of this mass shooting is all too familiar. But what feels new to me is the reaction to it. Under the leadership of students at the school, a movement has arisen to protest the laws that allow gun violence to spread, and this movement seems more inclusive and effective than ones that preceded it.
I appreciated watching the marchers on TV last Saturday and hearing some of the children and youth who spoke in Washington . The speaker that most inspired me was 18-year old Emma Gonzalez; and it is because of her that I mention the March this Good Friday.
Gonzalez’ speech was unlike any I have ever witnessed. She began by giving the time — “six minutes and 20 seconds” — that it took the shooter to kill 17 people and injure more in her school. With tears in her eyes, she recounted the names of victims and articulated some of the terror, incomprehension, and rage that overwhelmed those in the school. And then at the two minute mark, she stopped talking and stared ahead in silence.
For four minutes and 20 seconds, she blinked and cried, as random people in the huge audience shouted encouragement or chanted slogans. For four minutes and 20 seconds she held space for the grief of the hundreds of thousands of people in attendance. When a timer went off, she said that it had been six minutes and 20 seconds since she took the podium, the length of time it took the shooter to cause so much death and pain. She then offered a few more words of encouragement and walked off the stage to thunderous applause.
Emma Gonzalez was doing what we try to do every Good Friday and Holy Saturday – she was holding space in which to feel grief and which might then allow us to change our hearts and the world.
On Good Friday, we remember the agony of Jesus on the cross and the loss felt by his friends. We remember the suffering of others who are violated by oppression or killed by unjust systems. We remember the pain of our own losses and our fears of mortality and fragility.
Every Good Friday, we come to the foot of the cross to stare at things we would rather ignore and then wait in hope for Easter morning. We come to hold space in which we can feel our grief and so clear our minds before we enter an empty tomb on Sunday morning.
Some people prefer to skip Good Friday and Holy Saturday and rush forward to Easter. But Emma Gonzalez knows that we need space in which to grieve loss; we need silence before Hallelujahs; and we need emptiness before resurrection.
As a person who presides at spiritual gatherings for a living, I am astonished that Gonzalez could stand in silence for more than four minutes in front of one million people. Never before have I experienced such a powerful example of holding space for tough feelings. I pray that she and other students continue to speak truth to power and to organize for change.
Today we have heard the stories of Good Friday. They may have brought grief or fear to our hearts and minds. They may have reminded us of some of the pain and difficulties of our own lives.
And now we wait. We wait in prayerful silence. We wait in expectant hope. We wait, watch, and pray knowing that doing so prepares us to enter an even larger space – the empty tomb of Easter morning.
We may live in a Good Friday world. But it is a world in which children and young people are finding ways to feel their feelings, to express their desires, and to organize for justice. It is a world filled with violence but it is a world with an even greater abundance of Grace and Love.
It is a world in which we are invited to follow the Christ on the Way of the Cross, and that is all that we need.