I have to confess that I love religious ritual. There is a beauty to the reading from the Torah or the way the incense is shaken as it travels through the nave and the way the white cloth is lifted, folded, and set down by young Mormon priesthood bearers. There is a specific beauty to the practiced bob of a daven, the rising and bending of Muslims in prayer, and the raising of the right arm to the square before a baptism. Even watching someone meditate (truly meditate and not just in the fashionable way) fills me with an uncanny awe. I stand amazed and the power that comes from seeking–and often finding–the divine.
Good Friday at my house dawned this morning with spring sunshine and noisy kids getting ready for school. We rushed through our morning routine (not nearly as awe-inspiring as a ritual; it’s simply what we do), squeezed in our scripture study, and prayed while standing in a circle in front of the door with backpacks and jackets on. All of us secretly hoping that no one was going to miss the bus or forget their homework.
It wasn’t until I settled down to breathe and look out my window that Good Friday settled into my heart. Today was the day most of the Christian world was remembering and commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. My heart began to ache and an emptiness settled inside me, an emptiness that Jesus Christ’s miraculous sacrifice usually fills. But not today. Today is the day we remember how He was pushed out of this world. How He was not accepted, honored, revered, or even really listened to. I feel a weight of sadness and anger and frustration–all the things that I would have to constantly carry if not for Him. Today it is my burden and I carry it, even though He doesn’t ask me to, because I need a way to show my solidarity with Him. I am amazed that even in His hour of sorrow He is willing to comfort me and I wish I could do the same.
I wish I had a ritual for this feeling, this emptiness, this vacuum of solace. Something to help me shoulder my burden more efficiently. Something to acknowledge the pain that He suffered and the process of His grief. But there is no ritual for Mormons on this day. We don’t go to Church. We don’t sing special songs. Instead, in true Mormon and Christian fashion, I seek to make my home a holy place on this day by being just a little more patient with my children, by filling my mind with sacred hymns and scripture, and by pausing in gratitude over and over and over again.
There is the hope of Easter Sunday, though, in a quiet spot inside my heart. Like the tulips, strawberry vines, and pea plants just peeking out of the dirt in my garden, hope and life is preparing to return to the world. We will go to Church. We will take the sacrament and commemorate His suffering. We will sing special songs and we will rejoice together. This emptiness is but a moment and rebirth is imminent.
This has been a strange week for Holy Week. Tensions have been high this week in America with anger and hurt and confusion bleeding into so many conversations. Tensions are running high across the world. There are wars, fiscal crises, droughts, and famines. There is hate within families and misunderstanding and mistrust within communities. I can’t help but think that we have all forgotten how much we have in common and how much we need to reach out to each other.
Which is probably why the actions of the newest pope, Pope Francis I, have been so meaningful. He broke with tradition, he reached across boundaries, and he confirmed solidarity with those different from himself in a way that was truly commemorative of Jesus Christ. He said, “It is not in soul-searching… that we encounter the Lord. We need to go out … to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.” I stand amazed at the power of ritual to remind, reframe, and renew.
One week from Easter will the General Conference for the Mormon Church. For me it also is a holy time. It doesn’t carry the same gravity that Holy Week does, but it is thrilling and edifying and brings spiritual renewal. Not every talk is for me but the ones that are resonate down to my bones. We have our small family rituals (cinnamon rolls, visiting family, and special coloring packets) to commemorate the graciousness of God’s gift of prophets. And I am always amazed at the power of God’s love to change my every day life.