The Complicated Grief of Good Friday
On the echoes of past belief.
I spend a lot of time thinking about belief—how they are formed, how they shift and break and are reformed or discarded. But anyone who’s left a high-demand religion can understand that sometimes there are echoes of past belief that reverberate later on.
For me, in recent years that has been Holy Week. More than any period of the Christian calendar, it’s Holy Week that really gets to me.
I think I can articulate it like this: Maundy Thursday & Good Friday are the sole times when the absence of God is expected and the death of God is assured.
If you’ve been to a traditional Maundy Thursday ceremony, it’s a very somber affair. There is foot washing. There is the stripping of the altar. At the last one I attended, all the lights were turned down, and we processed from the sanctuary to the smaller Lady Chapel used for early services, and chanted something along the lines of “stay with me, watch and pray.”
That service coincided with my own personal faith shift—one I wasn’t expecting. I had thought I had reconstructed a progressive form of faith and was reaching a new period of stability after some dynamic, difficult periods. Then things shifted, a sense of God shifted, and that was that.
Maundy Thursday & its sibling, Good Friday, are where unanswered prayers are represented. They still go unanswered and unfulfilled, but there is honesty there, that they are heard and not heeded. There is a simultaneous brutality and coldness to it; a divine refusal to act that leads to a divine death.
I don’t glamorize or valorize the violence involved and do not believe that salvation came through those means. I have no interest in that. And for what it’s worth, I have no interest in this, either—rather it feels as if it has an interest in me.
At that Maundy Thursday service, the air was heavy and so was my heart. Because I was an active participant, it wasn’t manipulation—it was a conscious observance. I was observing a form of my belief dying. There was little I could do. Prayers were heard but not heeded. All that was left was to stay, to watch and pray. And wait for whatever life or death comes next.