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Don’t Forget To Grieve

I once attended a Good Friday service where the pastor encouraged us to look at Good Friday positively, to see the crucifixion through “Easter eyes.” I could only shake my head at this massive misunderstanding and missed opportunity.

His intentions were good … He didn’t want anyone to feel bad. He wanted to protect us from feeling defeated as we meditated on the death of Christ. It’s completely understandable. But in doing so, he robbed us of exactly the feeling and experience that Good Friday is meant to give us.

Those of us who inhabit the sphere of “American Christianity” live in a world that doesn’t know when, how or even why to grieve. For us, Christianity is about victory, it’s about feeling better about ourselves. It’s upbeat, inspiring, short and peppy. I even know one pastor of a large church who has asked his worship leaders not to do any songs written in a minor key. Too much of a downer.

Like all of us, I was hit hard by the events of Fall, 2001. I was up early on the morning of the 11
th

for a meeting, and was actually watching TV when the second plane smashed it’s way through the tower. I walked around the rest of the day numb and in shock. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.

I went to services that weekend, hoping someone could help me with my grief, hoping that with the people of God I could feel what I needed to feel, process my questions and my grief and in doing so come to some place of resolution. But instead of mourning … instead of an honest admission that we have no idea why things like this happen, I was greeted by a multitude of draped American flags. I was asked to salute the flag and sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I got a pep rally, when what I really needed was a church service. We needed to grieve. Instead we were told to feel better. We needed silence and respite. We needed to mourn, but were not allowed.

And we wonder why so many of us struggle with a persistent, low-level depression. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because when we should, we refuse to grieve. We hold in the tears when they should come out. We find that the emotion we should give vent to, in appropriate ways, tends to leak out in other ways— some not nearly so appropriate or healthy.

I’m absolutely amazed when I see television coverage of third-world countries, particularly the coverage of disasters. When I see the keening, wailing women, the men tearing their clothes from their bodies and even the hair from their heads in anguish, I realize how emotionally impoverished we stoics in America are. I realize that the grief and mourning which the Bible actually speaks highly of, is completely missing from our vocabulary. We’ve lost the ability to grieve.

And with it, I think we’ve lost the ability to be truly joyful. Have you ever wondered how those who live in other cultures, even those who live lives of impoverishment can smile so broadly and celebrate so joyfully in the midst of their impoverishment? We watch in amazement as year after year at times of victory or celebration they fill the streets, dancing in joy, eyes bright. The closest we ever come to that is when our team wins the World Series, or the Superbowl. And even that is a pale mockery of the joy that we know we should feel at times, but never seem to find. We wish we could dance the way that they dance, or feel the joy and excitement they seem to feel.

Take Easter, for example. Every year the pastor stands and does his best to project the words “Christ is risen!” And we half-heartedly answer, “He is risen indeed.” Usually we have to try it a couple of times to work up any enthusiasm at all.

And the reason we don’t feel the joy at Easter that we know deep down inside we should, is because we don’t feel the grief at Good Friday that we could. We enter our well-lit sanctuaries on Good Friday, sing some songs, hear a nice message about the crucifixion, and go out for dessert afterwards with our friends. We enter with smiles on our faces and leave the same way. If only we knew how to grieve.

Good Friday ruined the first disciples’ weekend. Maybe we should allow it to ruin ours as well. For them, it felt like the end of the world. Maybe we could pretend, even for a day, that it’s the end of ours as well. Somehow, in an eternal-perspective-kind-of way, we should see what Jesus went through as something not just to be celebrated, but also something to be mourned, to be anguished about, to actually grieve.

This Good Friday, focus on the suffering of Christ. See the movie if you haven’t already or go again. Go alone so you won’t worry about what anyone else thinks of your reaction. Attend a Good Friday service.

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Allow the grief to seep deep down into your bones, into your bowels. Meditate on the wounds, the suffering and the deep, deep love of Christ. Allow the tears to well up from the pit of your being, to escape your eyes and roll down your face. Let the sobs rock your body. Leave the Good Friday service in silence. Extend your mourning through the night and into Saturday. Leave the TV off. Wear black. Refuse to medicate, distract or otherwise soothe yourself. Mourn. Grieve.

If we do this, as the sun rises on Sunday, we may finally know what Easter is all about.

[Bob Hyatt is lead pastor of an emerging community (www.evergreenlife.org) in Portland, OR. Just as importantly (perhaps more so) he is husband to Amy and the father of Jack.]

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