When I was younger (being only 27, that probably means “just a few years ago”), I was often concerned with feeling the proper emotion for the occasion. At a funeral for example, you’re supposed to feel sad, so I had to be sad the whole time, right? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that almost all occasions will be associated with a variety of different emotions. I’ve switched to the approach of recognizing what emotions I am feeling, trying to understand why, and being OK with that. So when my fellow MCC-goer said that he was glad that this had been a Lent with plenty of light moments, instead of just being all somber all the time, I smiled and nodded. Sincerely.
With all that in mind, I want to approach today not with sadness (although the readings and music at today’s service will see to it that some sadness will arise) but with love and gratitude. It’s no mystery why love is on my mind. My grad class this semester is entitled Love Stories: Our Shifting Perceptions of Romantic Love. All semester we have been looking at various examples of love (starting from Ancient Greece) and analyzing them in an attempt to figure out how things have changed and how things have stayed the same.
Obviously, one constant is God’s love for us. “God loves us so much, you can’t even imagine,” my confirmation sponsor once said, imitating the rough Italian voice of one of the Milwaukee priests. Returning to her regular voice she asked, “Why doesn’t father give us something we can connect with?” Thankfully, we don’t have to do much imaging today: we come face-to-face with an image of perfect love as we see Jesus dying for us in the most painful way available at the time. A willingness to die for another was picked up by anthropologist Helen Fisher (really interesting Ted Talk here) as a universal trait of someone who is madly in love. So there you have it: modern proof that God’s nuts about you.
I can’t begin to measure up to that standard of love, but Good Friday gives me a few opportunities to work at it. For the third year in a row, I will be singing the petitions. The singing itself is an act of love: I was once told of a performer who looked out at the audience before every performance and said, quietly, “I love you.” Over the course of the traditional ten petitions, we eventually pray for everyone. Not only will I end up praying for those I don’t necessarily agree with, or even like, but the music forces me to slow down and dwell on them. This requires real, God-assisted love.
Fasting is part of the experience, too. It teaches me to love the gifts that I have and to feel a bit of loving empathy for those who have less. I always find the Good Friday fast just a bit harder than the Ash Wednesday one, which happens in the middle of the week, where there is plenty to distract me from its effects.
This brings me to the gratitude: I am grateful for the change of pace that Good Friday brings, taking me out of the routine and forcing me into some quiet prayer and reflection. And I’m grateful for God’s love.