On my way to Meijer to purchase ice cream salt and rubbing alcohol for the new fire at the Great Vigil, I passed by one of our local Pentecostal churches. Because it is a) Pentecostal and b) on the main thoroughfare, they have one of those fancy LED marquees that announces things like opening in their pre-school or special services. As I passed by this morning, the first ad I saw on the screen was for their Good Friday service, which is a thing I’m noticing more and more in non-liturgical traditions, and something maybe for a later post. The ad featured a black background with a silverish cross in foreground along with the service name and time. As the image switched to announce the Easter services, the cross changed from silver to white. The background from black to a bright blue sky hovering above an August National-type green grass hill.
In that moment, I realized something about myself. I think there is a part of me, way back in the recesses of my soul, that thinks the tradition of veiling crosses in Lent is backwards. Instead, I wonder if we shouldn’t remove all the crosses from our naves during the Great 50 Days of Easter. I know that this is a dangerously triumphalist thought, but I think it stems from too many experiences in which the fast of Good Friday and the feast of Easter Day have been conflated into a cross with purple sashing sitting below a white banner the Alleluia in gold lettering.
There is no Easter without Good Friday, and Good Friday isn’t good without Easter Day, but they are meant to be honored as separate events, or maybe better said, two distinct features of a greater whole.
One of my favorite prayers in the Daily Office was written by Charles Henry Brent, the late bishop of the Philippines and later, Western New York. It goes like this,
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: so clothe us with your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.
The Gospel lesson appointed for Tuesday in Holy Week is a typically Johannine text, in which Jesus is clear that it is through his being lifted up [on a cross] that Jesus will draw all people to himself. There is, as the old hymn says, power in the blood of Jesus. There is redemption in Jesus stretching out his own arms in loving act of laying down his life. This even is worth contemplating deeply during the week leading up to and including Good Friday. In the act of laying down his life, Jesus draws us all in to himself in love. And then, it seems to me, something different happens come Sunday morning. Rather than shifting our focus from a gray cross on a dark background to an empty wooden cross on a happier background, our focus should turn entirely away from the hill called Golgotha to the stone that has been rolled away from the empty tomb. There is a whole lot more to think and say about this than 600 words will allow, but suffice to say, I think it is important to consider how the events of Good Friday and Easter are different, even as together, they help to bring us all into the knowledge and love of Jesus.