St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Good Friday, 2016

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 In 1969 a book appeared on the shelves of book stores which was to change the way in which many priests and doctors approached those with whom they worked. The book, which became compulsory reading for many, was entitled “On death and Dying” written by a Swiss born psychiatrist called Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who herself died in August 2004. She wrote about the stages that people go through as they know their death is looming closer. She listed what became known as the five stages of grief. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
 
Let us attempt to apply these stages to the events surrounding Good Friday.
 
Denial
There are two ways in which we can apply this stage to our story. The first concerns Peter and the crowing cock. Here we have the one whom Jesus had called “the rock” wobbling. It was expedient for him to deny that he even knew him. For me the most powerful sentence in the various Passion narratives is found in the Gospel of Luke – we read it on Palm Sunday this year – “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.” Can you imagine what  that look in the eyes of Jesus might have been?
 
For Peter the reality in which he lived had changed in a most dramatic way, and he was having to deal with that. What do you do when the ground beneath you shifts? Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced by a heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death.
 
Of course Peter was denying knowledge of Jesus, in the presence of possible hostility and exposure, but was this denial rooted in a deeper denial within Peter that was the result of the chaos he was experiencing?
The second denial concerns our Lord himself. We find it in one of the words from the Cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” This is classically named the ‘Cry of Dereliction’, but it could also be called the cry of Desolation. Jesus was bowed down under the chaos, the pain, the loneliness, the sheer brutal horror of his situation. He finds himself denying that God could possibly be present.
 
Anger
The cry from the Cross “Father, …take this cup away from me..” could very easily be replaced with “Why me? It’s not fair!” or even “How can this happen to me?” Once in this second stage of anger, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue.
 
Let us look at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Here we see a Jesus who is not resigned like some robot to the execution of the programmed plan. What do we see? A young Rabbi, with dreams and trust in a Kingdom of Love that could change the world if given a chance to grow in people’s hearts. The looming opposition, the sinister leaving of Judas from their shared meal, brought in the darkness which was to bring Jesus to his knees before God. He wasn’t acquiescent. Could it be that he was angry?
 
God knows it didn’t have to be this way! Jesus knew it too. Consider that Jesus, grappling with his imminent death in the Garden of Gethsemane, could be a deeply consoling image, maybe even a transformative icon in our lives. There was, I would suggest, a move from desolation to consolation. There was a movement from the cry, “Take this cup away!” to “Let your will be done in my life“. And if you thought that the movement from that position of desolation to the position of consolation was an easy one, could I suggest you count the drops of sweated blood along the way!
 
Bargaining – Judas said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
 
Judas makes a bargain. He would be paid with coins from the Temple Treasury. The normal wage at the time was one silver coin for a day’s work – that was twelve hours work. Judas received thirty silver coins - a month’s wages for a life. What makes this deal unconscionable is the fact that Judas was bargaining with someone else’s life. The life of Jesus had a value placed on it by Judas. It is easy to bargain with the lives of others, but it is also cheap and has consequences.
 
In contrast, Jesus doesn’t bargain at all. Not even for his own life. This really becomes the ultimate challenge for the follower of Christ. We are challenged to be prepared to be the one who pours out our life, instead of trying to get someone else to do it for us? There is a business in Port Elizabeth called Q-4-U (Queue for you). This company, for a fee, will stand in line for you wherever necessary so that you don’t have to have the unpleasant experience yourself. It’s a bargain! What is to stop the principle being applied in other areas of life? It might be that some of us look at the church, and the clergy, in this way. A sort of, “Pray-4-U” or “Compassionate-4-U” or “Suffer-4-U”. This attitude can more often than not be seen in the parishioners who ask about the weekday Masses – they want to know that the Masses are there, out of some sort of superstitious fear, but God forbid that they should dream of actually attending to assist at Mass themselves.
 
Depression – There is something of the depth of depression in the question of Jesus to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?”
 
Depression can take the line, “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?” or “I’m going to die… What’s the point of doing anything?”
 
Depression can be said to be the leaden blanket we pull over our souls when the anxiety of our real world is too hard to bear. It expresses itself in many ways: deep fatigue is but one of them. Maybe this is what the gospel writers, who wrote long before the development of psychology, were trying to portray in those disciples who could not keep awake?
 
They had been in the Upper Room, they had seen Jesus offering Judas the reconciling, dipped bread. They had witnessed the betrayal, although not recognized it. They must have felt the tension, the apprehension and the anxiety. How much easier it was simply to pull their robes over their heads and fall asleep. 
 
The final stage is Acceptance
“Father, … not my will, but thine be done.”
It is almost as if Jesus is saying that it is going to be okay. Jesus could almost be saying, “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.” Acceptance of what is about to happen brings a certain kind of peace. This final stage comes not only with peace but also understanding of the death that is approaching. Jesus makes his final point. “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”
 
And so he dies.
 
 

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