Twice now in two different churches that I served, Good Friday became a very memorable occasion. Working with a team of people and local funeral homes, we borrowed an upscale casket, arranged colorful flowers and held a funeral service for Jesus. We actually had a black Cadillac hearse parked outside the church building entrance so that when people arrived their curiosity was immediately aroused. When people walked into the sanctuary, the initial visual of the coffin, the flowers and music rattled their sensitivities. The mood was immediately set. In quiet whispers you heard, “What is going on?”
We created an order of the memorial service as if a recent member of the church had died…only this time the deceased was Jesus. What does a funeral service involve? It includes prayer, of course, and reading the Scriptures, a eulogy, singing hymns, perhaps a contemplative musical solo, and shared memories of family and friends. Mary, mother of Jesus, spoke of Jesus’ birth, his often troubling ministry and his final hours on the cross. Lazarus told his startling story of being raised from the dead just a few weeks before. Peter spoke of being called and trained by Jesus and about the teachings and miracles of Jesus. Yes, he recounted the experience of walking on water. Even a fidgety Roman soldier who watched Jesus die slipped in the service and wanted to make a few stunning remarks. In many funeral services in which I presided, a time for open sharing about the deceased has been included. So, those attending the Good Friday funeral services were invited to express their reflections about Jesus. The congregation was drawn in as participants and not just spectators.
We may get so use to talking about, maybe even arguing about the meaning of Jesus’ death that we miss the emotional impact that a dear friend has died. We need to stop thinking only about why he died. We need to cease simply saying, “Thank you, God, that Jesus died for me.” We must mourn the loss of a loved one. We need to reflect on the life of the One who was in a highly valued relationship with us. Verily, there is a time and place for robust theological explorations into the meaning of Jesus’ death, but not on Good Friday. Did I really type “verily”? Let’s just sit and grieve. Let’s lament. Let’s feel the sorrow of Jesus’ real death, not just ponder a central theological proposition.
The overall impression made by these creative attempts at honoring Jesus and Good Friday was expressed in several ways. People said things like “Jesus’ death felt so real” and “The impact of the actual death of Jesus was driven deep. It was like one of my loved ones had died” and “I actually felt sad for the first time on Good Friday.” Sisters and brothers, yes, indeed, a loved one died.