Holy Saturday

Avowal by Denise Levertov

As swimmers dare to lie face to the sky and water bears them, as hawks rest upon air and air sustains them, so would I learn to attain freefall, and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace.

Last night around 80 people gathered on a warm evening to worship God and remember the Seven Last Words of Jesus. I am still new to Bethany so I do not know how many people usually gather for this experience but I do know that there is usually a service that includes Bible verses that tell the story of Jesus death on a Cross. The one we used last night was written by my friend and colleague John Moses. John’s approach in the liturgy was to personalize the words of Jesus on the Cross, not to belabor the old liberal fixation on whether these are actually the words of Jesus nor the traditional and classical Good Friday focus on horror of the crucifixion in light of Jesus’ atoning death “for us”. In place of these two usual Good Friday themes John’s reflections brought us to a death, the pain of that death and the meaning of the death.

I could tell people were emotionally affected by the service. Why? Again the two usual Good Friday liturgies, deconstruction from the left and triumphalism on the right tend to leave people cold and relatively unaffected, unless you include feeling of self-righteous “I told you so”. John words were on one hand personal and yet almost subversively political as well. There was the pain of Jesus’ death, a mother’s grief, the cruelty of fellow traveler and at the same time a clear reference to the political intent of this death and the vision Jesus offered that threatened to upend this order.

I believe people understand the pain of distress that comes with feeling forsaken. Whether the pious church provides space for those feelings is another question. Last night that space existed. All of us, if we are honest, have felt “cut off”, lost and disconnected in our pain and loss. To hear Jesus near death feeling likewise was not only cathartic, it was also liberating. And that is the beauty of the Psalms, as Psalm 22 so beautifully expresses, when we open ourselves to the pain there is a presence to hold us. That shift theologically is about letting go of a God who gives us as we deserve and leaning in to a God who gives as a gift, a gift of grace.

The shift is both emotional and intellectual, it is both heart and mind. We let go of aloneness and merit and we embrace connection and grace.

The poem Avowal captures this spirit. I love the way the author puts this all in words, “and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace.” What a deeply moving and transformational phrase and how wonderfully helpful to those of us who go through these distressing times.

On this Holy Saturday we live in between times, despair and hope both within sight, and we trust in grace.