We’re near the end of Lent, approaching Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and I’m acutely aware this is my favorite Christian ritual. I understand it’s about the death, not the birth, of Christ. But it’s also about recovery, redemption and resurrection – qualities all of us who’ve been down on one knee at sometime during our lives, gasping for air, have needed.
This is the season of hope, with spring around the corner. At my little Evangelical Lutheran Church in Afton, we have weekly Lenten services on Wednesday night. The sanctuary is dimly lit, the parishioners are usually quiet and the music is genuinely prayerful.
My favorite Lenten hymn is “We Shall Rise Again.”
“We shall rise again on the last day
With the faithful rich and poor.
Coming to the house of Lord Jesus,
We will find an open door there, we will find an open door.”
What I found one night, a Good Friday a decade ago, still sticks in my mind and nourishes my spirit. The pastor had called and asked me to read some Scripture. I showed up at 7 p.m. and the sanctuary was almost dark – a few shafts of light piercing the windows – and silent. The altar was draped with a black cloth. An old wooden cross was tipped to one side. I sat next to the pastor.
When it came time to read, the words that came from my mouth had already settled in my mind: “And He went on a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, ‘O my father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’”
I sat down. The choir sang. The pastor spoke. The Scripture continued: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” These words could have come from me: the doubter, the prodigal son, the wanderer in the wilderness. This was Christ with the human touch, and his words touched me that night.
Darkness had fallen. I could only see silhouettes. The sound of the organ settled over the sanctuary, slow and sorrowful, and the Scripture concluded, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the Ghost.”
It was over. As the Lutherans left that night, they came silently up the center aisle, two by two, family by family, body and spirit. From my front-row seat, I saw it all: the elderly husband and wife who held hands as they knelt, said their prayers and struggled to rise again; the children who came solemnly, as though they had tapped into a wisdom beyond their years; and the choir, singing “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
To my surprise, tears streamed freely down my face – one of the few times in my life. It was though I was watching all of humanity, through eons of time, pass in front of me: the young and old, the youthful and fragile, the saints and sinners. When my turn came, I knelt in front of the cross and put my hand on the pastor’s shoulder. Then I got to my feet, walked silently out the back door and felt the mist on my face.
For the moment, I knew all was well with my soul.