Today’s the day they nail him to a cross.
I wonder if arriving at Golgotha was actually a relief after being run through the stony streets barefooted and bearing a heavy, rough-hewn cross. Those streets lined with howling citizens mocking, spitting, guffawing.
Despite the excruciating pain, as the cross was raised to its upright position, at least he could suffer in solitude as he looked out over the waste of the world.
For a few years my mother forced us to attend a Good Friday vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Summerville, SC. At the vigil the seven last words on the cross were spoken over a period of time, maybe three hours.. We didn’t stay for the entire service, but dropped in and out after an hour or so.
I recall in 1969 on Good Friday standing beneath the tree in our front yard in a coat and tie listening on a transistor radio to Jose Feliciano’s cover of “Light My Fire,” hoping against hope that Mama would relent, but to no avail.
No time to wallow in the mire.
If I remember correctly (and it’s been 51 years), the ritual consisted of kneeling in silence in a darkened black-draped sanctuary – everything was black; even the cross was sheathed in black crepe. Occasionally, a bell would chime, and Father Skardon would recite one of the seven last words, actually, strictly speaking, phrases like “I thirst” and “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?”
For me, it was impossible to think of anything but Jesus’s suffering. Of course, I wanted to leave, but there was something aesthetically powerful about the ritual that transcended the mundane. In other words, I was alive in there.
Eventually, Mama would look over and nod, and we would get up, reposition the kneeling bench, bow to the cross, and head out the door. Exiting through those doors from that darkened sanctuary into the bright sunshine of springtime was not unlike you were exiting a tomb yourself — happy, happy — not realizing that down the road somewhere that sorrow, grief, and suffering would be your lot as well.