This is my third Good Friday at this duty station.
This year I spent on the couch with my husband, watching the EWTN broadcast of the Celebration of Our Lord’s Passion from the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The stream cut out in the middle of the intercessions, which coincidentally was at 3 PM, so we went ahead and prayed today’s Divine Mercy Novena. The broadcast was beautifully full of silence, and so even if we couldn’t be there or at our own little church here, at least we were able to fill our living room with prayerful sounds.
Last year I was 38 weeks pregnant, and I sat for most of the liturgy. That’s about all I remember that’s worth repeating. I sang in the choir, and sat for everything else. But the baby didn’t come before Easter, which was a blessing.
The first Good Friday I spent here was four years ago. My husband and I, engaged a month and a half, together for a little over a year, were spending our first Easter together. His best friends were getting married the following weekend, and they asked him (and me) to come visit for Easter so they could meet me and spend some time together, since they were all between deployments. We were all (except my lieutenant) Catholic, and so it followed that we’d go to church together, or at least Easter Vigil down at the cathedral.
I agreed, on the condition that my to-be husband go to Good Friday service with me, since we were going to get there too late to go to the 3 PM service. I was giving up my Triduum at my home church for him. He, not being Catholic, having never been to a Triduum, did not quite understand what this meant to me.
On the way up to their house, the male half of the couple called and said that his buddies wanted to go to dinner downtown. My fiance said okay, sure, he’d go with them. I, not having been around them in college, having never had to follow a friend and make sure they were okay, did not quite understand what this meant to him.
The scene when we arrived was tense, as the other bride-to-be was not thrilled at the prospect of the boys going downtown either. I was furious that my fiance was going to break his promise to me in order to go gallivanting off. And then, awkwardly, after they left, it was me and the other bride-to-be, whom I’d never met, both of us preoccupied with our grievances.
You want to go to Good Friday, right? she asked.
Yes, I said.
The last service is at [six or seven, I forget], she said. I’ve already been, but maybe afterwards you can come back here and we can go get soup and salad or something.
Okay, I said. How do I get there?
She gave me directions. Looking back on it, there’s a way to get to the church from their old house that would require three turns, but she gave me the back road directions, warning that the church was actually a prefab building with a tin roof and thus a little hard to catch. It should take about ten minutes to get there, she said, so if you leave now you ought to have plenty of time.
So I left, still full of rage, and loneliness, feeling betrayed, feeling awkward, wanting to be home with my choir in my church with people who took these days and liturgies seriously; and, after about fifteen minutes of driving, discovered myself hopelessly lost on the back roads. I went down the road I thought it was on. I didn’t see it. I went back and turned down a road, thinking maybe I had missed something, was supposed to turn down this way. I turned back around. I found my way back to the main road and started over. I crisscrossed the state line I don’t know how many times, and I still couldn’t find the railroad tracks or the church.
Time came for the liturgy to start. It went. I was still driving, back and forth, trying to keep my eyes on the narrow two-lane no-shoulder road, on other cars showing up behind me and forcing me to accelerate, on the side of the road, looking and looking. Panic and frustration and despair started mixing with all my other emotions. Bad enough that I was going to church alone; now it looked like I wouldn’t even make it to church, like I wouldn’t be able to be where I needed to be, longed to be, spending time with my crucified Lord. I called the other bride-to-be, but she couldn’t figure out where I was based on what I was saying. I was lost, lost, lost, and late, late late. I was going to miss it, and that would be that. No Good Friday liturgy for me. My fiance had failed me and I was going to fail Jesus and I was alone, all alone, as the minutes slipped away on the road.
I don’t remember how it eventually happened, but at least fifteen minutes after the liturgy was supposed to have started I found myself back on the road I thought I was supposed to be on, and I decided to take it just a little further–and then, bump bump over the railroad tracks, there was the sign, and a prefab tin-roofed building. I pulled into the parking lot, simultaneously relieved but also bemoaning how late I was, how I’d missed everything, how I was going to be walking in so late—
I made myself get out of the car, and walked across the parking lot in the early evening near-sunset light, orange-gold on the scrappy wheat fields surrounding the church. I went through the glass doors into the vestibule, separated from the sanctuary by a wall that didn’t go up to the ceiling, and I turned into the sanctuary itself. The priest stood at the altar, and a lector at either microphone, and as I slid into a pew in the back the priest said,
“It is finished.”
“And bowing his head,” the lector said, “he handed over the spirit.”
And as my trembling hands pulled down the kneeler and I sank to my knees upon it, a complete and overwhelming knowledge rushed upon me: I wasn’t too late. I wasn’t too late. I had made it.
He had waited for me.
He had waited for me, to die for me.
If you’re asking if I’m saying that an infinite God, who created the universe and enlivened it with his breath and sustains it with his love, who was born to die for love of those who did not know him and who do not know him still, whose infinite self nursed at Mary’s breast and looked upon her as he stretched out his arms to die so that all might have life, that this same infinite God nudged the fabric of space and time so that I might pass into his sanctuary not a moment too soon and not a moment too late but at precisely the moment when I would hear proclaimed that self-same love–that I would know that in the depths of my failure, in my loneliest moments, I am not alone, I am loved and redeemed by the One who is with me, who is Love Incarnate–
well, yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
And in my humbled overwhelmed state I burst into tears. Trying-to-be-silent, chest-heaving, nose-running, eyes-overflowing sobs of gratitude and unworthiness and love, and I cried them through the rest of the Passion, and through the homily, and the intercessions, and I’m sure I got tears all over the Cross, and if you think I was able to see Our Lord as I received him in the Eucharist through the tears in my eyes well, you have another thing coming. I remembering thinking at one point at least I’ll never come back here again, and no one will ever see me and connect me with the crazy crying girl from Good Friday.
(It’s not the church we’re going to. But it’s only about ten minutes away, and I have been there once since, because the Lord works in mysterious ways and likes to let us laugh at ourselves.)
The night didn’t end there, and in fact I found myself in desperate need of the grace and love and forgiveness given to me so that I might extend it towards others; and my poor fiance had his own Via Dolorosa to walk that night, and when we were finally reunited it was with a profound sense of how blessed we are to have each other, how we love because God first loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
But I will never forget that knowing that I had as I knelt down to commemorate His death, as if from the Cross he looked down at me and said, There, there, little one. I am here, and I will not leave you an orphan. Come, and rest in me.