“At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)”
“The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!”
Matthew 27:51-54, The Message
Today is Good Friday but this morning when I opened up my journal and began to compose my thoughts for the day I thought a lot about how I celebrated last Good Friday. Last year I spent all of Holy Week in East Africa – the first half in Kenya and the latter half in Uganda. On Good Friday last year our ministry team of 10 (including our driver and Kenyan host) rose early, piled into a Toyota mini-van and proceeded overland to Uganda. As the crow flies, its a little more than 350 miles and were we traveling American roads we could have been where we were headed by lunch time. But these were Kenyan roads which lent a whole different meaning to the phrase “road trip.” In fact, for the next 15 hours – including the hour or more it took for us to pass through the border town of Busia [see Hoping for my A-game on the journey back to Africa] – we were roadtripping-it down the highway, passing through various towns and cities along the way.
It was close-quarters inside the van and unless you're someone who can read well over roads that arefrequently uneven and subject to intermittent speed bumps, there's not a lot to do but look out the window and enjoy the scenery. But after some truly wonderful views in the Rift Valley, the scenery pretty much consisted of either savannah or tea plantations; like parts of Iowa and Illinois, if you've seen one mile of it you've seen it all. So passed kilometer after nondescript kilometer while within our stuffy van most of us either napped or looked out the window in something of a stupor.
From time to time we would pass groups of Christians clearly involved in some kind of Good Friday gathering or procession and it made me think of how I normally would be celebrating the day were I back in the States, participating in our annual community Good Friday service. Instead, I was cramped, bored, hot, and weary – and we weren't even at the half-way point yet! Every once in awhile I'd try to meditate upon the sufferings of Jesus and the meaning of the day but frankly my own discomfort smothered whatever spiritual flame I vainly tried to light. So, I yielded to a state of somnolence as the hours of the day slowly passed.
|We all looked and felt this way|
It was dark by the time we reached the YWAM campus outside of Jinja. We were hungry, dirty, tired and worn. After our Ugandan host got us situated and each of us had had the opportunity to clean up a bit, I shared with those who were still up that I felt we should do something on account of Good Friday. They agreed and so we read the story from the Gospels, prayed together and then concluded with a song or two appropriate for the day before calling it a night. Truthfully, I went to bed disappointed. Maybe it's the trappings of my Lutheran upbringing that still remain after all these years but it just doesn't seem like “Good Friday” unless I've gathered with others in a place and re-lived the story. As someone would be quick to point out, I, in fact, did all those things – we had gathered in the front room, prayed and worshiped thanking God for his goodness to us in Jesus – all the things I would have done had I been back home except at Chetek United Methodist instead of one of Hopeland's guest houses. In retrospect, I think I was just too tuckered out to feel anything of spiritual significance.
Tonight we will gather with other disciples in Chetek at Chetek Lutheran. This year, Pastor Guy has asked each of us pastors to share a brief monologue based on one of the characters of the story. I'll be sharing the Roman centurion's tale. There he was at the foot of the cross, overseeing the execution of yet another Jew. It was, by all accounts, just another day at the office. He and his men knew the drill. They had done it enough times to render one of the most horrific ways to kill ever thought up in the mind of man fairly routine. But the way this man died and the moment of his death transformed an otherwise normal day into something akin to an epiphany - “Surely he was the son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). And maybe that's why I went to bed disappointed last year on Good Friday: the dullness of my spiritual senses that made me crave the comfort of my bed more than the worship of my Savior.
I recognize that throughout a calendar year I celebrate Good Friday; certainly every first Sunday of the month at Refuge where we share communion and together “proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” But this former Lutheran is looking forward to being in one of God's houses tonight, entering the story yet again and, in my case, trying to see again what that Roman commander saw for the very first time.