For obvious reasons, Good Friday has a different feel than any other day of the year. No other day has the same gravity. No other day has the same draw. We stop what we’re doing in the middle of the day to acknowledge the beginning of the most significant event in human history—the Paschal Mystery. We participate in the story of Jesus’ Passion, we pray for the whole world because that’s who Jesus died for and we pay homage to the cross—the object that the Romans used to bring shame, terror and despair, but that God transformed into a sign of God’s power, compassion and love.
Observing the Veneration of the Cross is at once one of my favorite and one of the most challenging of parish liturgies. There is a wonderful mix of regular parishioners, visitors and folks who, while they might not make it the rest of the year, make a point to give that afternoon the attention it deserves. There is something that touches human experience in the Passion of Jesus that draws people to Church. I have always belonged to large parishes, and that brings its own set of challenges.
The Roman Missal requires parishes to make only one cross available during veneration, and when you have a very large congregation, this can take a while. A few years ago, while sitting with the RCIA group that would be initiated into the Church following night, the Veneration took on new meaning for me. One of the group had social anxiety and was struggling to stay in his seat as the sea of people just kept coming and coming—and we were somewhat trapped in our pew. Others had overcome some serious personal challenges to get where they were—ready to die in the waters of baptism and be reborn as children of God. I had a million things to do to get ready for the next day. Not to mention that we were all fasting and hungry…and the people kept coming and coming. It was taking forever and everyone around me was getting uncomfortable, which in turn made me uncomfortable.
Then I remembered that this is supposed to be uncomfortable. This is supposed to be something of a sacrifice. We are observing the reality of our God flaunted in front of us—naked, tortured, grieving, dying…forgiving. As that thought entered my consciousness, I began to notice the people who were coming forward. I knew many of their stories. I knew what they had been enduring, what/who they had lost, what grief and burdens they were bringing with them to the cross. Some of them could barely walk from old age or illness. Some were in fine health but had interior sufferings. Some I didn’t recognize, but I could recognize their tears and the pain in their faces. All of them came to the cross—uncomfortable, disturbed, hopeful or praying for hope—carrying their own crosses to the One who knows their suffering.
Jesus wasn’t comfortable on the cross. His mother wasn’t comfortable watching him die. His friends weren’t comfortable as they ran and hid—afraid of what would become of them—afraid that everything they had given up and everything they had been doing was for nothing.
We need to sit with the discomfort that our lives bring us. We need to sit with the discomfort of Christ crucified. We need to sit with the discomfort of the suffering of others. And we need to remember that discomfort is not where this all ends. Our hope is in the cross. Our strength is from the God who became weak for us. Our growth and trust is from the discomfort that God helps us through—that is never the end—but only a threshold to something better. When we acknowledge the discomfort of our crosses in solidarity with the cross of Christ, we can participate in God’s saving action on earth. We can help one another carry our crosses and share in one another’s discomfort. We can allow ourselves to be healed and to assist others in their healing.