Today is the saddest day in the world. Good Friday, although it is necessary for the happy Easter Sunday that will follow, is a day when my heart aches. The last week of Passover is a tumultuous time for me.
I did not come from a particularly religious family. We came to be Episcopalians by a distinctly non-religious route. My mother’s family were strict Lutherans. Their church did not have a choir so my mother, desiring to sing, joined the Episcopal Church. My father’s family were Roman Catholics. Our town had an ecumenical baseball league, but only for Protestants. He joined the Episcopal Church so he could play baseball.
I was Christened in the church they had chosen. Neither of my parents ever accompanied me to church, and I have no idea if they ever attended services. They sent me to Sunday School. I loved the coloring and the singing. I gleaned some information about what everything was about but got more from the Christmas pageants at various elementary schools.
When I was eight, we lived on Midway Island. There were no churches, but we had visiting chaplains, every couple of weeks, and I went to the Protestant Sunday School. When we moved to Honolulu, I went to the nearest church, which happened to be Episcopal. I knew nothing of denominations and because I was joining the church without my parents had no guidance from them. There was a long list of kinds of churches, but “Protestant” was not among them. Pretty much at 10-years-old the only thing I knew about my beliefs was that I was Protestant and not Catholic, but could have told you nothing of the difference. I checked “Presbyterian” because it was the most similar I could see to what I knew I was called.
So, I was an Episcopalian when it came time for me to go through the Confirmation process, and my parents insisted on my attendance. It was long and took up free days I would have much preferred to use playing outside but, if nothing else, produced one of the memories that always brings a smile.
During the week preceding Palm Sunday, we were asked to bring in a palm frond that would ultimately be burned and used for Ash Wednesday the following year. I had a little piece of palm from a tree in our front yard, but as I walked to class I passed a whole limb that had fallen. With great difficulty, I hoisted the end of the limb onto my shoulder and hauled the huge thing several blocks to the quonset hut that served as our church, snickering all the way and rehearsing how I would say, “You asked for a palm branch.” The authorities were not amused.
Because of my parents’ non-involvement, and, therefore, no affirmation at home of what I was told, I did not absorb a faith. However, I was always spiritual. I always felt a connection to something outside, what I called the Universe.
I went to various churches depending on circumstances. When we lived in North Dakota, I went to a Lutheran church with the people across the street. This church had a choir, unlike my mother’s. When we moved to Rhode Island, I went with school friends, who happened to be Episcopalian. They were very religious friends, and I joined them not only in the choir but also at Wednesday night services, as well as Sunday morning. I fasted during Lent. I was ripe for conversion.
Except, doubt crept in. I was disturbed by Christ’s reported words from the cross. “Oh God, oh God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Alternatively quoted, “Father, Father…”) My question was, if Christ is the Son of God, as he made evident in the Temple, calling it “my Father’s house,” he must have known what would happen, so why did he think God had forsaken him? It was a hard question to face at 16, as it was later in my life. But, at 16 I asked the question at a Wednesday night gathering and did not receive an answer. You cannot believe how many ministers and priests have just looked at me blankly, benignly suggesting that I do not understand because of my lack of faith, and simply need to believe.
Still, I was very spiritual and equated that with religiosity and went diligently to church. Until I was 19. At 19, on Palm Sunday, having prayed and fasted throughout the Lenten season, I sat in a pew and listened to the most beautiful sermon I could imagine. He spoke of sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ for all of us. The sacrifice we all should make for others in honor and replica of Christ’s sacrifice for us. By the end I was ready to toil, to struggle, to sacrifice for others. And, in one breath the man in the pulpit destroyed it. After the crescendo of calls for sacrifice, the amens, he said, “Meet me in the anteroom for coffee and refreshments.” So much for sacrifice.
I did not go to the room to meet him and enjoy the pastries the ladies of the church had provided. I walked out of the church and never returned. Except for one time years and years and many miles away when we brought our daughters to a Midnight Service on Christmas Eve. Except, of course, for weddings and funerals. I did, however, talk to several ministers of different persuasions, always with the same result.
All those men and all their learning at their respective seminaries, who could or would not answer a question, while there was such a simple explanation.
Jesus did not speak simply. He talked in parables. “Oh, God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” was not the cry of a horrendously tortured man. It was a message to his followers throughout time that He was the Savior for whom they had been waiting. “Oh God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” is the beginning of Psalm 22, a Psalm that evokes that day, this day. It describes the crucifixion, including the casting of dies for his garments. It is heartbreaking when we understand that it was a forecast of what was to come. And, on the cross, He told us.
There were still questions for someone who was not raised to simply believe. Today might be answered, with anguish, but the rest of this weekend and forever were also extremely difficult to understand. And, again, simply answered.
The disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested. For good reason they were afraid of what would happen to them. However, after a few weeks, they returned, spreading the Gospel, ignoring the horrible things that could, and in many instances did, happen to them as a result. The big question is “Why would they come back to certain ghastly punishment?” The only answer that makes any sense is that He returned to them. He returned and gave them assurance.
There were a lot of “I believes” that I learned for confirmation. I believe only one. I believe in Jesus Christ.
Enjoy your bunnies and eggs, and especially your chocolate! I wish you a Happy Easter, although I am still grieving over how we get to it.