Aside from the occasional remembrance (only present for the hiccup in my otherwise slothful Friday schedule), I wouldn't know the day as any different. The dim awareness that Sunday will be special--a service at the oceanside, scheduled time with family instead of impromptu--is dimmer still as life's frustrations and uglinesses have gotten to me more than usual lately.
The day is nice enough for April in Maine and I have a coupon for iced coffee, so the bus is traded in for a walk along the Green Belt, where the reality of living against the ocean with my sweet little city perched quietly across the harbor is once again accepted as normal, taken for granted, forgotten. A call to my mother--the marrow-deep familiar tones of her voice, the intimate reflection of myself--also normal, also taken as unremarkable.
Arriving, coffee in hand, I get to work, correcting grammar and aligning text, explaining busyness away as service, even ministry. Only mildly grateful for a restored voice after sickness, I lose myself in songs that trigger an emotional response, but even this I recognize for what it is: surface-level, nicks and scrapes on the hard rock that I plaster myself with. Verses are read, more songs are sung. Truths recited as normal, taken for granted, forgotten.
And then she comes forward to read, my sweet friend who only stands to my elbow, whose stature and quick laugh and self-deprecation don't hint at the depth and the strength of her. Even knowing her as I do, I assume she won't be able to get through this, one of the hardest descriptions in our holy book, where he is flogged, pierced, facetiously robed, mocked, slapped, jeered.
She speaks it, every word with its own comprehensive intonation. She feels every word, but her voice doesn't crack, doesn't wobble. From practice or grace, I don't know. She nears the end, her voice strong and clear and just as I start to turn away, she chokes on, "carrying the cross by himself."
And this is where I break, too. Every mention of "scoffers" in those songs has hung a little heavier over my neck, and this is where I fall to my knees from the weight. Because I can't help him. Two thousand years ago he walked those streets, but we purposely stop on a Friday night in the spring to remind ourselves of this: that we didn't help, wouldn't help, can't help. We don't sing the fourth verses that talk about victory and new dawns and torn veils because, if for just a couple hours, we need--I need--to remember this scene:
He didn't help me out. He didn't catch me when I almost stumbled. He didn't pinch hit for me. He carried my cross by himself. At best, I was nearby--but even in that, I cannot be heroic: "Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice / Call out among the scoffers." This is why we pause, why we dwell with death for a day of the calendar, because otherwise our story is over-softened, and Jesus is somehow shaped into a sidekick, a helpful buddy who pats me on the back and justifies my wrongs.
But even while I walked through my day nearly unthinking of him--ungrateful for what He's graced me with, unnoticing of the pain and hurt that surrounds me, too distracted by my own paper cuts and stepped-on toes--he still takes on my brokenness and carries it. By himself. Not as a pack mule, not as a bit player, but as the One who saved my life and saves me still. How is it easy to forget that, to paint it as a minor subheading in my oh-so-busy life?
In the traditional celebrations of Passover, the youngest asks, "Why is this night different from all the others?" There's no reason to believe a close friend of Jesus didn't ask the same question at their Passover table hours before he would take that cross for himself. What makes tonight different?
It isn't. It's the same--I am the same, and so is He. But for one night, this night, we remember. We don't skim, we don't turn the page. We hold, just for these few hours. And even though our story reminds us of his wounds, he comes still, even now, to heal.
Just as I am, without one plea
but that Thy blood was shed for me
and that Thou bidst me come to Thee!
O, Lamb of God, I come. I come.
I come broken to be mended.
I come wounded to be healed.
I come desperate to be rescued.
I come empty to be filled.
I come guilty to be pardoned
by the blood of Christ the Lamb,
And I'm welcomed with open arms--
Praise God--just as I am.
Just as I am, I would be lost
but mercy and grace, my freedom bought.
And now to glory in Your cross,
O Lamb of God, I come. I come.
The specific scripture referenced is John 19--a shocking, painful, awful narrative... And how terrifying that I can read it nearly without feeling if I'm in the right mindset.
And if reading song lyrics was a little lacking, Travis Cottrell can help.