“Let us draw near with a true heart:” A Meditation on Good Friday
“Let us draw near with a true heart”
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
It is Good Friday. The day of the Crucifixion of our Lord. The day he made his way to Golgotha, the day He stumbled on the path, the day Pilate winced and dodged and the day He was betrayed by the crowd. The day of the beautiful and mysterious thief and the amazed centurion, the day of His cry of desolation and His terrible thirst. The day His cloths were divided and the earth fell into darkness and the veil in the temple was torn in half. The day of Mary’s silent witness and the day He passed away before us.
"A spectacle," John Donne wrote,
of too much weight for me.
Who sees God’s face that is self life, must die;
what death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
And yet this is our task today—let us draw near with true hearts.
But it might be in the stillness of the day, a day we might want to be the stillest of days, you are distracted. Perhaps you want to attend to Christ but instead find your self worrying about the lay of the land - perhaps you find your eyes turning away from the light itself onto reflected light. The centurions who didn’t notice. Or who did, but distractedly, numbly, and were busy attending to their various responsibilities. It couldn’t have been an easy day for them. Not unusual perhaps, but requiring attention and effort. Keeping the crowds in place, establishing some rough order etc. Or perhaps those at the edges of things - children maybe - playing with dice or fighting with sticks. The day may have been memorable for them too, a day full of its own triumphs and failures. And beauty, for someone must have found something beautiful that day. The way the light fell on a certain part of the wall, a plant, not noticed before, showing the possibility of new life. Or perhaps it was what is so often beautiful to us - the face of a loved one for example. It must have been, in so many ways, a day like any other day.
About suffering they were never wrong, writes Auden,
The Old Masters: How well they understood
its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.
How well they understood it’s human position.
And now, of course, we are distracted. But we can be distracted further still. For this day, our day, will be full of things and these things may be on our minds. Perhaps you, yourself, were astonished by the beauty of the world on your way here. A house you passed seemed like it was painted a perfect colour, why did you never notice that before? Or perhaps you are going to see friends later but you are not sure you want to. You might be worried. . . are they your friends actually? Perhaps there was a betrayal there. An affection sent that was not returned. An absent minded cruelty, or possibly a deliberate one. Or perhaps the very thought of these friends overwhelms you with joy. Or with anguish. Or with weariness, or anxiety, or with nothing at all. Perhaps all of these.
Maybe it is work that is dragging you away. Something due soon. Something that, this time, will hold together. Something that will say what you wanted it to say. Perhaps there is fear drumming away underneath this. Fear that the thing you want will not come to pass, fear that your love will escape you. Fear that there will not be enough time.
Or perhaps you already know this. You know that the sorrow and damage of the world can breach your shores. That a love that seemed to be enough wasn’t. That the most precious things can be lost or damaged beyond recognition. That our very own bodies and minds can break us. And that in our very own souls we have an infinite capacity for cruelty, rage or indifference. And perhaps this is your burden, not that you were betrayed but that you were the betrayer. That you chose destruction. It is possible that this isn’t so clear, you are half convinced that it wasn’t really you. It was complicated. Perhaps you have managed to half paper over it. It might remain buried.
Or perhaps it isn’t this at all and what you know is yearning and hope. You are remembering your favorite song. It is so beautiful and true. You are remembering a day, or part of a day, that was perfect, or almost perfect. The way the sun was, or the rain was, or the snow was, that day. The way the world rose up to meet you and that time did not seem out of joint. Something reciprocated.
And these thoughts might be like your days, moving from one moment to the next, suddenly a shaft of light, now a cold wind.
"It is right it should be so," says William Blake, "Man was made for joy and woe."
This winter a friend of ours died, far too many years before her time. It is a deep sadness. And yet her daughter spoke about her so beautifully at her funeral. What an astonishment, to hear a daughter speak like this in her grief. What an expression of love and attention. What a gift.
Joy and woe are woven fine.
It is, I think, for us to know these threads, but not because we can make them cohere. Each filament is distinct and singular. Here something beautiful, there something wretched. Here a delight, there an agony. Here something precious, there something sorrowful. Here something benign, there something treacherous.
Do not try to bind them, do not try to balance them out. Do not weigh one against the other. Do not braid them together into any finality. Gather the fragments, draw near with true hearts and offer them up to the quiet of the day. Hold into the silence, make yourself keen with longing.
It is finished.