A Good Friday Reflection

It’s my second Easter without any feelings about church in general. Good or bad. I don’t miss it. I just miss the community and the music mostly. I attended my first Seder last night in place of a good ole’ Good Friday preaching and crying service. I must say, I didn’t feel like I was missing out.

The Seder, although not traditional and definitely ten times bigger than family-style, was quite well organized and planned. I felt some of the heaviness of the occasion but not in the usual overwhelming and debilitating way that causes numbness. We reflected on our collective liberation, we did our best to sing the Hebrew songs, did ritualistic eating, stuffed our faces with dishes made by loving hands, heard beautiful poems by Suheir Hammad and Naomi Shihab Nye and shared in the traditions of the Jewish culture all in honor of the freedom of all peoples. The evening also included direct social action events like donating to help a group that will be going to Turkey to dramatize the words of queer folk in Lebanon. I was full when I left.

I reflected this morning…

I’m getting a strong sense that I have an aversion to the actual Good Friday service because of the wailing and crying and processions that accompanied Good Fridays in Ghana. Of course it is not that dramatic here in the West, but I can’t bear to step foot in a church because of this past history. Christians in Ghana take this service so seriously, it even becomes comical. Folks wear the same dark traditional funeral cloth that’s dyed a shiny, almost licorice shimmer, with imprints of reds and maroons and burgundy’s. With black head scarves the entire sanctuary is black. If Mama Nature does not give us sunshine that day, you can book an appointment with your therapist immediately following service. Yes, it’s that depressing!

Services were at 12 noon and at 3pm. Each one had its particular crowd. The former attracting a more subdued and less-showy crowd. If you wanted a seat at the 3pm service, it would behoove you to arrive by 2pm right when the nooners were letting out. True to legend, all sinners did indeed show up for church on Good Friday. Most of the extras in the crowd were folks who generally went to mass twice a year—Christmas and Easter. As ushers struggled with crowd control, and younger men were roped into first giving up first their seats and later, into carting extra chairs from the Fellowship Hall and classrooms, these delinquent church-goers smiled broadly as they coyly squeezed themselves into already overcrowded pews. The priests often advised the regulars to be welcoming to these delinquents as a form of penance. “Practice doing penance by giving up your favorite corner of that pew on which you have a lifetime membership.” This didn’t go over too well as regulars had formed habits that were not easily broken even for penance-sake. Some regulars who arrived late would cause a scene either by demanding their favorite corner, or stubbornly squeezing into that favorite pew by climbing over purses, shoes, and laps, and planting themselves right in the middle causing folks to have to automatically shift to avoid being sat on. The more subtle of these regulars would go by their favorite pew and smile sweetly at any newcomers there. Yet others would wait until it was time for offertory. As people went down the center aisles to place their offerings in the baskets near the altar, these regulars would move into their favorite spots leaving angry and confused delinquents in their wake. Such deviousness when we were supposed to be repentant. I guess they could repent at next year’s service.

I recall crying and wailing for a good portion of the service. Handkerchiefs at various stages of browning and blacking from makeup and kohl (eye-liner) were completely soaked and re-soaked at various points of the service. At some point in the service, ushers led lines of black-clothed parishioners towards three wooden crosses to kiss the wounded and crucified Jesus. Other ushers tried to keep up with wiping the slobber to show some semblance of sanitation. This part of the service seemed to take forever since some parishioners “fell apart” at the foot of the cross and had to be carried away for counseling. I don’t think as a kid I quite understood how the mere presence of a piece of wood could do this to someone. It baffled me. How could people command such deep grief on such short notice? The theory is of course, that if you were truly remorseful for your sins then the tears would come easily and unprovoked. Ours is after all a religion of fear. Everything was about Jesus and hurting him, and the stuff we had to apologize for—a year’s worth of shortcomings. It worked to whip most of us into shape. I dare say the WWJD movement had its roots in missionary Africa.

We usually left church stunned into silence for the better part of the evening. This probably suited most parents since children were usually out of school for Easter and by day two had probably started to wear on the adults already. We returned on Saturday to keep vigil until such time as the story line says the stone was rolled away and Jesus appeared to his female disciples. We returned again donned in our year’s best, usually a shade of white, on Sunday to rejoice that Jesus was risen. Again. Easter Monday was church picnic. Easter was about being in church just about every day for a whole week, beginning early Palm Sunday morning with the procession through the streets of Abeka.

I think over the years of defining and re-defining my faith for myself, I have come to observe the day as a calm and quiet one. I rarely do much talking on the phone if I can help it and I generally journal and reflect. If I add some sad music, then sometimes I provoke the tears to come. Yesterday was no different. I spent it quiet and reflective, mostly editing my 123-page (for now) memoir that I will be turning in on Thursday as part of my thesis work. I ended my day with the Seder, and I must say it was just the ending I needed. Some poetry, some social justice action, good food, reconnecting with one of my American exes who has known me the longest in the US, and reflecting on the idea of our collective liberation. I couldn’t have asked for a better observance of the day.

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2 comments

  1. Okay, I know this isn’t funny but I’m cracking up over the description you gave of Good Friday at St Charles Lwanga. Man, I remember being so depressed that day and also watching the various versions of The Passion of Christ on TV. I have been thinking about how different Easter is for me now and how unsure I was about sending out messages wishing people a Happy Easter. Love this piece!

  2. KK, I guess Good Friday and the whole Easter thing mean a lot of things to different people. These days, Good Friday is not so heavily commemorated in Ghana, at least not in the urban areas, with all the weeping and wailing. For me, the message of Easter is simple and yet profound. Christ died to save me and make me a new person.

    But then spending the Good Friday with a Jewish family would be so interesting and such a novelty.

    BTW, my kids have gone out on a church picnic. Ha ha ha! And I have some well deserved peace and quiet.

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