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Image: Alecia Greenfield, "A map of my anger" in Spirituality, Art, and Community: An exhibition of artworks from members of our community (Outsiders and Others Art Gallery: November, 2020). Accessed online on 27 March 2024

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness." - Hebrews 4:15

Monique Minahan, author of the book, The Grief Practice, writes this:

We can’t know that when someone we love dies, a part of us, the person we were, dies too. How we love and lose; how we break, fall and crack apart; how we freeze often, immersed in the pain of losing the ones we love, certain that we will never recover our aching hearts. We give ourselves not quite enough time to heal, thinking we should be able ‘to be ourselves again’ after a week, month, year, or decade—but the truth is, once grief crashes in through the door, it never leaves for good. A constant companion, grief shifts shapes, expands and contracts from moment to moment and most of us spend far too long denying the existence or depth of our pain. In this world, the one wrapped around us now, we are only beginning to understand that freedom comes with telling truths about how we feel. When we share our stories, when we move our bodies and shake out the shadows, we create more space for healing.

Grief is complicated, isn’t it? There are many emotions that come with grief: denial, shock, numbness; pain, guilt, shame; anger and bargaining; isolation, loneliness, processing; testing and acceptance. Often, these emotions manifest physically: a sore back; headaches; a locked jaw; stiff joints; a chronic cough. Lauren Saunders, the Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain for First United Church in the downtown eastside, recommends drawing a map of our grief. Where in your body have these emotions pitched a tent and set up camp? What were you doing, who were you with, when, as if out of nowhere, pain, guilt, shame, anger, bargaining, came rushing in?

Just last week, I was at a birthday party for a friend. I came through the door and gave her a great big hug, wishing her a happy birthday. She said to me, “Helen! What is going on with you! Why are you shoulders like *this*?”

“*This* is not good!” she said.

I knew immediately. My shoulders felt like concrete because a week prior my friend and colleague had died. I hadn’t yet been able to cry. If I were to draw a map of my grief, I would draw two big rain barrels, *right here*, filled to the brim. 

If we were to draw a map of the grief experienced by Jesus and those who walked the way with him to the cross, I wonder who and what we would find? Is Peter’s denial, his unwillingness to associate himself with Jesus, a form of grief? Was Pilate in shock as he sent Jesus to be flogged, and crucified? What kind of numbing must rulers subject themselves to in order to inflict this level of violence? 

I wonder what guilt and shame Judas was carrying as he led those officers to arrest Jesus? What pain he must have been in when he later suicided, no longer able to contain his grief? I wonder what anger Jesus must have experienced, what bargaining with God he must have done when at last he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done?” Then, Jesus’ mother; his auntie; Mary the wife of Clopas; and Mary Magdalene—the isolation, the loneliness, the sleepless nights processing it all; the testing in the months and years to come; the “poking and investigating the void”; the attempts at acceptance through reconstruction of plans and dreams: how do we make meaning of this enormous loss?

Good Friday, in the church, is a time when we remember the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a day when we remember that Jesus walked his own grief map. Through Christ’s suffering and death, God who became human, walks eternally with all of creation, in our own journeys of loss. On Good Friday, the custom is to refrain from celebrating the Eucharist, to refrain from offering our usual praise and thanksgiving for Christ’s broken body and blood poured out. Instead, we receive wafers that were consecrated, that were blessed, the evening prior on Maundy Thursday. We don’t say a prayer over the gifts of bread and wine. We don’t lift up our hearts at the altar and give thanks. For me, this is a reminder that, while our hope is most certainly in the resurrection—in the knowledge that death does not get the last word—Good Friday is a way of recognizing that there is a road, or rather a map, to resurrection, that new life necessarily follows suffering and death. So, today, our praise and thanksgiving is simply this: we do not walk this map alone, but in the company of our saviour. Amen.

Works referenced:

Monique Minahan, The Grief Practice (Mrs. publishing: 20 February 2019) accessed online on 27 March 2024

Lauren Saunders, “Lent 2024: Art Challenge” in First United Church Community Ministry Society (Vancouver, BC: 16 February 2024), accessed online on 27 March 2024