“Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the Lord.”
My daughter Lucy and I often talk about being brave. Riding her bike down a steep hill. Sliding down a slide alone. Jumping in a puddle with abandon. Many of her adventures in bravery are born from burgeoning curiosity.
The other night, Lucy was feeling curious again. As she was going to bed, she asked me what ‘courage’ meant. Still surprised by the newness of childhood, I paused and thought carefully. I settled on telling her that “Courage is finding the strength to say yes, even when you know something will be difficult.”
Maybe it’s because I want her and her brother, Connor, to appreciate complexity. Perhaps it’s that parenthood has turned me into a parrot; I often find myself repeating phrases, including the idea that people are asked to do things that they might not want to do, and sometimes even in the face of fear. For whatever reason, it’s what came to mind and I stuck with it.
On this Good Friday, the most solemn day of our year, we are a world engaged with a kind of suffering that is at once communal and isolating. As we remember the death of our Lord, we also face a global trauma and hardship unseen in our lifetime. The desire that our own suffering be redemptive, even if we cannot understand it, feels greater than ever. We all may feel like we need a little (or a lot of) extra courage, for both ourselves and for others. I know that I do.
Our Psalmist today reminds us where that courage is centered. Crying out in lament, this voice is firmly rooted in hope in God’s faithfulness. “Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the Lord.” While it is indeed a day of remembrance and mourning, we also witness Christ’s willingness to follow God’s Will to the end, even in knowing what would happen to him. His faith is so staggering that one can’t help but feel Love in the midst of his incredible pain.
This pain is vocalized in the Gospel when Jesus cries out to his Father in Heaven in his time of greatest need. Although John’s Gospel emphasizes the divinity of Christ, we are reminded of his full humanity throughout the readings of Holy Week. “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found in human appearance” (Philippians 2 and the verse before our Gospel reading). This nearness of Jesus inspires courage not in spite of but because of the fullness of his human experience.
Hebrews also describes Jesus as someone who could “sympathize with our weaknesses,” having been “similarly tested in every way, yet without sin.” That God would choose to dwell among us as one of us, disrupting the loneliness of humanity in the Incarnation, is the transformative moment in history. It was when the sacrificial love we celebrate at Easter first became matter, when the light we wait for in the darkness of these few days was born. And so this time, assuredly filled with fear and uncertainty for those who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, must also be lived with courage and hope in the promise of God’s love.
Last term, Lucy was sick for our first community dinner. She couldn’t keep anything down. It was the first time I’d really seen her little body shake, trying to fend off whatever was causing her pain. It was also one of the first times I remember feeling helpless to fix what was wrong. All I could do was be with her, so she and I were roommates for the night. If this was a waiting game, I thought, at least she wouldn’t be alone.
Jesus, too, was never truly alone, just as we aren’t either. At the end of our Gospel reading, we encounter Mary rooted to the foot of the Cross as her son is tortured and killed. It stands out to me as a physical representation of the unconditional love extended to us from God. It is the parent-child relationship incarnate. The image of someone willing to say yes, to endure the immeasurable suffering of another. It is compassion like no other.
This image of God’s unshakable nearness in the person of Mary, particularly in times of sorrow and anguish, has colored much of my understanding of God in my adult life. Even if we cannot see God’s presence, we know that the love between Father and Son in the Holy Spirit is with us to the end of the age. Confidence in this truth is the foundation of our life in Christ.
And so this Good Friday, we may feel scared. We may not feel courageous, even if we desire to be. But I do pray that our hope in the Lord directs our hearts as we journey through the Triduum. We can be confident that even when we are apart, we are united in Christ.
Meg Costantini, M.Div. | Campus Minister at Aquinas House