The old Catholic convent smelled like smoke as we walked toward the flickering glow of small candles illuminating the altar. Everyone had been handed a nail and most of us knew what we would be asked to do before the night was over. It’s an annual tradition, a ritual of sorts, and a precious opportunity that only comes around on Good Friday. Sometimes I think I would rather not go. I came up with any number of excuses that sounded legitimate this year. But just when I thought I had made up my mind to do something else, I felt drawn to go.
Our friends wanted to go with us this year and the desire to share this sacred moment with them was leading us back on the path that was now lit by tiny votive candles.
It was supposed to be a silent service. But we, as a society, find it so hard to sit still, so hard to unplug, so hard to quit whispering messages to the person next to us. When the auditorium was almost full and we had just begun to settle in and try to still our thoughts, a cell phone began to ring in the row in front of us. The man’s wife gave him that scolding look only a wife can give a husband. He struggled to turn it off as it rang and rang and rang. About five minutes later, her phone began to ring and there was no stopping the laughter that came from all those around them.
Then the ping, ping, ping of nails hitting the floor seemed just as distracting, at first. But then I started to wonder, did they drop the nails? Did the men who crucified Jesus drop any of the nails? Were their hands shaking in anger? Were they shaking in fear? How must it have felt to place that sharp point on His most perfect and innocent flesh and then raise the hammer, make contact with the head of the nail and drive it into those loving, giving, accepting, amazing, most beautiful hands?
Our choir sang in Latin with an English translation on the large video screen. It was amazing. We silently read the last seven sayings of our Lord and Savior before He willingly gave up His spirit. Tears were flowing throughout the darkened church as we each stood and walked toward the old wooden cross. There, just beyond the altar, we each nailed our sins to the cross. It is always the hammering that makes it almost unbearable. Our son said he imagined the sound to be steady beats from a drum as he tried to contain his emotions while stepping forward to accept his part in the process. No matter how many times you have heard hammering, you have not heard it like this. It feels like the floor is moving, with our hearts pounding, and our hands shaking. No matter how many times you participate, it feels much the same. My sin, my shame, my fears, my failures, held Him there on that cross.
Oh the sweet relief of communion. The hammering finally subsided. We ate the bread of life and drank from the fruit of the vine and it was over. It was finished. It was done. He is alive. Resurrected in all His glory and sitting at the right hand of our God. Our debt PAID IN FULL! Our lives begin again. We are renewed.
As we walk toward our cars, our friend says she has never gotten more out of an Easter service in her entire life. We smile. I joke that no matter how it made us feel, I will walk right out that door and sin again. They double-check to make sure I’m not planning to sin anytime soon. And I’m not. But I know I will, probably even before the night is over. He knows I will. He knows me. But He came to save me. And He will save you too. He can even save the men who crucified Him. Did they believe in Him before their wretched job was over? Did the earthquake, the sun going dark, the dividing curtain of the Temple ripping apart, convince them that He was and is in fact the Son of God? Did they have extra nails? Did they drop the nails?
And Jesus said to the thief on the cross, the one who believed in him at the last-minute,the one who had sinned up until that very moment,
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
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