Good Friday - yes, it really is that bad
Maybe it's my melancholic temperament, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when I relate a hardship to someone else and their response is, "Oh, it's really not that bad." Now to be fair, probably some of the things I complain about aren't that bad and I need to lighten up. And I know that the respondant is seeking to help me, seeking to make things easier by helping me see the "positive side" of a situation. But the fact is, some situations don't have positive sides. Or if they do, it's not in the form of a "silver lining" that I just need to squint harder in order to see. Some things in this fallen world are just broken and bad and hard, period.
Such as Good Friday. It hit me in a fresh way this Good Friday the fact that Jesus really died. I know that sounds so basic - it's what we say every Sunday in the creed: "he suffered death and was buried." But this year, for whatever reason the fact really sunk in that Jesus' agony and death on the cross wasn't an illusion. It wasn't an optical illusion or a prank. The Son of Man, God Incarnate, really truly died that black, black day. He gave up his spirit and "descended into Hell," as the Apostles' Creed says. There's no amount of squinting that will find the silver lining in that reality - Jesus died.
The Good Friday liturgy brings this point home. It's stark and sparse. Images covered in red. Priests prostrating themselves. The crowd (us) saying "Crucify him!" This year I felt a real, aching sense of sorrow at thinking of Jesus bleeding on the cross and being placed in a cold, hard tomb. We sang a song that had the line, "Heavy with weeping let these three days pass." If Jesus hadn't really died, then this would all be a show. It would be play-acting, drumming up emotions for the sake of catharsis. Instead, it's a real mourning - Jesus died that day on Calvary. If Easter Sunday didn't arrive, there would be nothing "good" about Good Friday.
In trying to parse out why this point impacted me so much this year, I think it's because it hit home that our faith is not one of rose-colored glasses and optimism. It's one of resurrection and hope, which are two markedly different things than a tinny sort of forced cheerfulness. For me, that gives me the freedom to really grieve over the sorrows in my life - yes, infertility really is that bad. It's that hard. There's not really a "positive spin" you can give to the fact that my body is broken and my vocation to motherhood is stunted. It's all right to grieve that - in fact, it's a fitting response.
The same goes for any truly tragic thing - yes, it really is that bad that babies die in the womb, that children starve to death, that young men and women are murdered in their prime, that the elderly languish alone, unloved. Christianity's response to the suffering of a broken world was not to say "there, there, it's not that bad" - instead, the response for which the world had been groaning since the dawn of time was the sacrificial offering of God Himself on a bloody cross, knowing that no platitudes or bandaids would go to the heart of the crisis.
Easter Sunday - there is no ultimate loss
But....and this is a huge, world-changing, history-altering BUT, Good Friday is not the end! It's not! Could there be a more joyful three words in the English language than "He is risen"?
Because of Easter Sunday - because of the resurrection - because Jesus rose - Loss is not the last word. Sorrow is not the last word. Grief is not the last word. The final word is Love and Joy and Peace and Happiness Forever. These are stronger than death. As C.S. Lewis wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia, there is a deeper magic at work than the pseudo-magic of death.
It's not that death and sorrow and pain are "really not that bad" - it's that they're not the final note of the concert. After three days of silence, the music plays on, and at dawn on Sunday the weeping turns to laughter and the sorrow to joy.
It's hard to put into words how much hope this gives me! The best way I've found of expressing it is to say that because of Easter, there is no ultimate loss. The final enemy, death, has been defeated. What else is there to be afraid of? The sorrow I feel on a daily basis over my childlessness is a real sorrow responding to a real suffering. But it's not the final word or the deepest reality. None of this is pointless - everything can be redeemed. There is something greater going on in my life than the daily heartache I feel. That, too, can be redeemed. It's not an ultimate loss. Death and sorrow and pain are real - but the resurrection is more real, if I can put it that way!
Regardless of how poorly I've expressed this, the fact is that at the Easter vigil, as we were all welcoming the light of Christ - the light over which darkness has no power - my eyes flooded with tears and my heart filled with hope. Not hope for any tangible thing that I believe will make me happy (*cough baby cough*) but just HOPE, pure and simple - hope that everything will work out okay in the end, because Jesus went to Hell and back. Hope that love will triumph, because it already has. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.