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A Week that’s Holy, a Friday that’s Good

Luiz Coelho, Jr.

I woke up this morning, Good Friday, to receive an e-mail from my friend Stephanie, writing through her tears over a video I selected (“Pie Jesu” by Gabriel FaurĂ©) for my prayer site’s annual remembrance of the Crucifixion. She was very grateful for the version I picked, knowing the song is a favorite of hers; Barbara Bonney is the soloist. It’s probably not the most appropriate song of the day, ordinarily being sung at funerals, but it’s a mournful sound for a day of great sadness, and I doubt there’s any one piece of music that sums up everything Christians feel today. You can see it on my website here.

Here it is on YouTube. The visuals, shot mostly at a cemetery, make it the best example I could find. There’s one scene of an angel collapsed in grief over a gravestone that expresses my mourning for Christ – though I also like the editor’s adding scenes of creation (mountains, moon and stars) to the video.

Meanwhile I spent last night glued to a different video: the Choir and congregation of King’s College, Cambridge singing “My Song Is Love Unknown” by Samuel Crossman and John Ireland. For the next week it’s on my site here, and on YouTube it’s here.

“Love Unknown” is perhaps the single most important reason I’m a Christian today; I remember where I was the first time I sang it, at St. John’s, Lafayette, Indiana – “my home parish” these 40 years hence.

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from his blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need his life did spend.

Sometimes they strew his way,
And his sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful he to suffering goes,
That he his foes from thence might free.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

So many of these phrases jumped out at me when I was 19, and do today at 59: “O who am I, that for my sake” Christ should die? “But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed.”

“A murderer they saved, the Prince of life they slay.”

The world we live in is massively unjust – full of hate crimes, the rich robbing from the poor, people in the Middle East getting shot by their own governments, the middle class being destroyed by corporate greed – but the world has always been this way; save the murderer, kill the Prince of life. The folly I suppose was thinking we were making progress these last 2000 years (or 200, since the God we were raised on obviously created the USA to Make Everything Better). As Jim Naughton of Episcopal CafĂ© wrote recently, our current political state is “the Gospel in reverse.” That’s what the Crucifixion of Christ is all about, the homicide of love.

So what’s so good about Good Friday? Well, three days later Jesus walks out of the tomb, much to the consternation of Wall Street and the Republicans.

But what “Love Unknown” does for me is to personalize this in ways I’m not used to; “But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed.” Christ died for me, as well as every one of us.

Life isn’t just about politics, churches, governments, wars, corporations or other nameless, faceless groups; it’s about us. God came to save us, you and me, our life and death. It’s the most astounding story ever, and I believe it’s true. I know it is; hard to believe sometimes, but an absolute fact.

(Jim Borgman/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

If we don’t believe that love triumphs over all, we have no hope. The evil forces arrayed against our lives are overwhelming otherwise. But it’s not enough to cling to a belief in some vague fairy tale, which might or might not come true. We need to see the proof for hope to be real, a fact Jesus completely understood. The story of Doubting Thomas, who had to touch Christ’s wounds himself, shows that Jesus knew that only proof would do.

The miracles throughout the Gospels are all about the proof. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, he can and will raise us from the deaths we suffer by injustice and war and homophobia and patriarchy and apartheid, as well as mere disease and old age. In the case of his pal Lazarus, Jesus even waited to intervene till after he expired, old and moldy in the grave (“Lord, he stinketh”) before giving him life again.

But Jesus isn’t here today, we can’t see him, so where’s this proof?

The proof is in my friend Peter, diabetic and morbidly obese when I met him, barely able to walk; he’s lost a couple hundred pounds since lap-band surgery.

The proof is in my friend Leonardo, who should have been dead by now, but got saved by Higher Power.

The proof is in my own body – in all my friends; Helen and Marc in Crawfordsville, who lost their genius son at age 19; in Stephanie, my weeping correspondent today; in all the 1.3 million visitors to my Daily Office websites since 2004. The proof is in Desmond Tutu, in Mother Teresa, in Ryan White. The proof is in the plaintiffs in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a bunch of ordinary Lesbian and Gay couples suing for the right to marry, when 40 years ago – the same era when I first heard “Love Unknown” – Gay people were the most stigmatized and hated folks on the planet. (There, I said it, it’s true, and no amount of bitching about racism can change the fact.)

Christ is there in all of them; Christ is here in all of us. You are yourself the proof.

Of course we all know that millions of people don’t believe the proof and shout for atheism; but millions also believe that Obama was born in Kenya, God created the world in seven days and global warming is a hoax.

The main objection most people have to “God” is that they don’t like the behavior of “Christians” – and I quite agree. “Christians” are not any kind of proof, unless you’re looking for the antichrist. These days people are trying to create a kind of Christian morality that’s better than what they see out of Christians; it makes a certain amount of sense, if you assume that loving self-sacrifice, exemplified by Jesus’s crucifixion, is the highest way to live, but that Christians don’t have a clue.

I affirm that. If all you see is the gap between What Should Be and What Is, then yes, I concede. It’s wider than the Grand Canyon.

But what did you expect? How else would it be, considering everything we’ve done to screw up this world?

It wasn’t “they” that did it, those horrible corporations and warmongers, pols and crooks and liars; it’s “we.” This means you; this means me. Americans re-elected George W. Bush; he’s out now but half the country’s trying to double-down on his “pro-business, anti-regulation” policies that nearly destroyed the world economy.

We’re the ones who spare the murderer and kill the Prince of life. And it doesn’t matter what religion you profess, including humanistic atheism, we’re the selfish sinners here. You don’t have to believe in as crude a metaphor as original sin to recognize that human beings are fatally flawed; always have been, always will be. So maybe that metaphor’s not quite so crude as it seems; you got a better explanation than the sin of Adam?

We need redemption – and Jesus is the only one who offers it. (I suppose you could try reincarnation, but there aren’t any examples of people who get it right. Gandhi? They say he was queer.)

This I know: we live in an age of cynicism, of anti-heroes. We like “the dark side.” But the people we admire most are the same as they always were: those who lovingly sacrifice themselves.

Fr. Mychal Judge, FDNY

Now we come to the end of another Holy Week; Easter’s just around the bend. My hope for all of us is that, whether we’re at 0 or 100 on the faith scale, we’ll stop blaming others for our own failures, since they know not what they do. If Judas and Pontius Pilate had known what they were getting into, they’d have done differently; so would you. My hope is that we’ll learn to live a Christlike life, whether we believe in him or not. “There is no greater love than this, that a man or woman lay down their life for their friends.”

If you want love to triumph, you’d better start loving more. Let yourself become your own proof.

Meanwhile this is my song, slightly altered from Mr. Crossman, 40 years after he first moved me to tears. I don’t claim credit for being so faithful that I have a right to edit out the subjunctive, it’s just that after all this time I can see where my life is headed. I know my own destiny; it’s an amazing gift. I didn’t deserve it but God gives it to anyone who asks; Good Friday is good indeed.

Here I will stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days will gladly spend.++

Doug Blanchard