So this is it, the day that Jesus dies. Jesus has anticipated the arrival of this moment, the disciples have feared it and hoped it would never come, but this is the day that it actually happens. Jesus’ life all too suddenly comes to an end and his disciples are surely left with minds full of questions. Jesus’ followers and friends couldn’t do anything but watch as events unfold, they couldn’t step in, couldn’t save him- but their presence is what they could give, and it was enough. The story of the cross and Jesus’ final day is one that illustrates to us the raw human emotion that exists at the heart of death and grief. Two of which I want to touch on in today’s blog.
The first thing that Good Friday teaches us about grief and in fact something that Jesus himself shows us is that it’s ok, and indeed natural, to feel completely abandoned in the moment when someone dies. In Matthew 27: 46 Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, in this moment where he is close to death and his grief peaks, he feels abandoned and isn’t afraid to admit it. As Jesus dies feeling entirely alone, I’m sure his followers were feeling the same starkness of abandonment; not knowing why this was happening, how they should feel and what to do next.
When grief enters our lives, our worlds turn upside down and suddenly become places of turmoil. At the moment that Jesus dies the world goes dark, there is an earthquake and the curtain in the temple rips in two. All three of these things were very physical marks that the world as the disciples knew it was turning upside down and falling apart. When someone we love dies the world stops being a place that we recognise and instead becomes a place where something is very, very wrong. Unlike the events of Good Friday though, for us nature doesn’t respond to our feelings and let the rest of the world know what’s happened. We are simply left with a feeling of abandonment in a world that is carrying on like normal. People are going on with their lives, people are happy and the world is still spinning, seemingly unaware of the fact that someone we love is no longer in it. It’s wrong and it’s completely ok to feel utterly abandoned in that moment. Jesus felt it, the disciples felt it and we are allowed to as well.
The second thing I want to pick up on from the “Good Friday grief” is that we are allowed to let other people fulfill our needs. In John’s gospel Jesus has an exchange with his mother and the disciple he is closest to, he says “He is your son…she is your mother” (John 19:25-27). He ensures that once he is gone that those he loves most are going to be ok and look after each other. This wasn’t done so that he would be replaced in their lives, but so that some of the roles he plays in people’s lives can be filled by others. The person who has died is never going to get replaced, but that doesn’t mean that all of the roles they played in your life should just die with them. When we are on a journey of grief we have to admit, to ourselves and to others, that the death of someone special has left certain needs in our lives; and we are allowed to let other people meet some of those needs. Before my mum died my best friend’s mum promised that she would always look after me like I was one of her girls, and so for the past seven years and I’m sure for many years to come that’s what she’s done. Obviously she’s never going to replace my mum, but she meets some of the needs that were left by my mum. Admitting that you need help from other people when you’re travelling on a road of grief is at the very heart of surviving and finding hope again.
So today as you travel through Good Friday think about the raw humanity that is on display for us in the gospel accounts. Watch Jesus entrusting his mother and closest friend to each other and reflect on the needs that exist in your life. Perhaps they’ve been left by someone who has died, maybe they’re just there, but we are allowed to find other people to play certain parts in our lives; it’s not disrespecting the memory of our dear departed, it’s ensuring that their death is not the death of us. And finally this Good Friday, watch as Jesus cries out in the pain of abandonment, as the disciples stand and watch in horror, and remember that it is alright to feel abandoned and like the world is turning upside down. But remember that while it is Friday and it is finished, it’s only Friday and it’s not the end of the story.