Good Friday: An Optimist’s Approach

Easter Sunday, First Presbyterian Church in Dadeville, Ala. My notes scribbled on the back of the bulletin from my grandmother’s church:

“Good Friday wasn’t the worst of mankind. In fact, it was the best man had to offer at the time: a confluence of Jewish piety and Roman law. It wasn’t man’s worst day. It’s just that Easter was God’s best day.”

I meant to write about this before now, but a health scare got in the way. I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled the Monday after Easter to follow up on a couple of ovarian cysts I knew from a previous ultrasound were large and complex. My doctor wanted to see if they had grown or changed in makeup. They had. She scheduled surgery to remove and biopsy them. Then, that night, one ruptured and sent me into a tailspin of serious pain.

For some stupid reason I went to work, made it a few hours, then went home and passed out. I called my doctor first thing in the morning. She phoned in a painkiller and rescheduled my surgery to the next available operating time, some 36 hours later. It has now been a week, and I am exhausted but feel better than I did before the rupture of the cyst. The cyst turned out to be a symptom of endometriosis, which she was able to remove during the surgery.

I cannot believe how wonderful my family, friends and coworkers have been throughout this ordeal. They’ve kept me fed, kept me company, kept me comfortable, and kept my daughter. When I was freaking out before having a diagnosis, they offered perspective and reason. I have felt warm, loved, deeply blessed.

What does this have to do with the Easter sermon at my grandmother’s church?

Well, I’ll start with what I have long believed the Easter story to represent: It is impossible to know how good we can have it if we don’t know how bad it can be.

On the car ride down to Dadeville, my 10-year-old daughter was full of her usual interesting and (often) challenging questions. This time it was Easter. She didn’t understand “Jesus dying for our sins”.

Frankly, I never did either.

But I always understood “worse before better.”

What I told her: You have to start with how unusual Jesus was. He broke the rules. There were all these rules meant to protect people and create a good society, but there were things about them that weren’t quite right.

For example (and this is where I told my fifth grader about prostitution…), there were – still are, actually – women who didn’t have other good jobs available to them, and so to make money they let men have sex with them. Other people were not supposed to hang out with these women, but Jesus did anyway, because he believed all people had something good about them and needed to be loved. That was against the law, though, and that’s just one example of the things he did that were good, but broke the rules.

Y’all say it with me: “Sometimes, Lily, the rules are meant to be broken. They have flaws in them, just like the people who created them. Yes, even my own rules.”

Jesus also did some things that may have looked kind of creepy, like healing sick people with his hands and bringing dead people back to life.

And he did some things that pretty much everyone around could be happy about, like feed starving people with barely two fish to rub together.

So you can imagine this guy… how the people who really knew him must have really loved him and the people in charge must have been very frustrated with him. And how, for the former, it must have been really super horrible when the later (just following the rules) decided he must die.

But how amazing and incredible when he was alive again on Sunday!

She asked me if the story in the New Testament really happened. Is the Bible literal?

Does it matter? I asked her.

It seems to me this happens to all of us every day, and that my grandmother’s preacher is right.

Sometimes something lousy happens and it helps us appreciate what’s good. We get sick and appreciate good health.

And sometimes we’re just going along, doing our best and following the rules until suddenly we see the rules aren’t the point. We get sick and appreciate those who love us.

You’ve just got to change the way you look at the situation. There’s something good there, or there’s something different.

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