Good Friday: More than we can handle?

“God never gives us more than we can handle.”

That’s a statement we hear from time to time.  It’s meant to be comforting and often said with the best of intentions.  It’s a saying that may indeed help some of us from time to time.  But on this Good Friday, as we confront Jesus’ shocking and tragic death, I have to question its universal truth.

Imagine the story we have just heard, from Mary’s perspective.  She is standing there at the base of the cross—looking up to see her son dying.  We sometimes forget in all the ceremony around these days that we are telling a very human story.  Mary is a mother, years ago, she carried her child to term, cradled him when he was born, fed him, clothed him, watched him grow—the first breath, the first words, first steps.  And throughout that time, she felt the things that every parent feels: wonder, anxiety, impatience, disappointment, surprise, frustration, joy, love.  And now, she is seeing that same child nailed to a cross and lifted up in humiliation.  Mary is watching her own child die before her very eyes.

Did she get more than she could handle?  Putting myself in her shoes, I have to say yes.  And for many of us here today, particularly those who have said goodbye to a child, would probably agree.

There are times in our lives when Good Friday seems to be all there is.  There are days when it feels like everything that we hold dear is slipping through our fingers, when everything we love is withering away—or perhaps snatched away—before our very eyes.

The joy of Easter—the empty tomb, the resurrection, the new life—all of that comes later.  And when we are trapped in this dark Friday, all of that can feel like just platitudes, empty phrases, sentimental claptrap.  Do we really know that we will make it to Sunday?

One writer put it this way: “Here are the things we know on this Friday night—Jesus is dead, to begin with, dead and buried. He said the world was upside-down and needed a revolution to turn it right-way-round and so he was executed for disturbing the peace. He came and said love was greater than power, and so power killed him.”

And on Friday that’s all we have: a human tragedy, a grieving mother, a scattered community, a life cut short.

Does God give you more than you can handle?  If Friday is all there is, then the answer is probably yes.

But even as Jesus dies up on that cross, he is doing God’s work, rebuilding his broken community.  He looks at his mother and his beloved disciple.  “Woman, he says, here is your son.”  To the disciple: “Here is your mother.”

Even on that dark day, there is a new creation…a new community forming, like a spark in the darkness.  The cross becomes that sign of new life in the midst of death…that’s why, today, we will proclaim the victory of the life-giving cross.

Tonight, we will light candles and we will place them before the cross.  An individual candle won’t do much to light this room.  But as we cluster our candles together, the light gets brighter and brighter.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

So to return to the first phrase: God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  Perhaps we’re looking at it too narrowly.  It isn’t that you or I have to handle it all alone, like a single candle in a giant room…instead, maybe we should be saying God doesn’t give a community more than it can handle.  A community, like ours, shaped by God’s word, a community fed at God’s table and bathed in God’s waters, a community grounded in the promises of Jesus on the cross.

Even on a dark and gloomy Good Friday, we can stand together, in defiant hope, that against all odds and where we least expect it, there is the light of the world.

Yes we stumble, yes we fall, yes we have doubts, and yes we throw up our hands and give up.

But the people around us help us back up and keep us on the path, just like Mary and the Beloved Disciple.  Though we may sometimes feel trapped in perpetual Friday, we can turn to others to remind us of the hope of Sunday. Life can be more than we can handle on our own, so we band together, looking to Jesus, the salvation of the world, and turn our eyes and our hearts towards his life-giving cross.