Have you ever heard a tree cry- or moan?
I spent a couple of hours hiking on the Appalachian Trail near our home today and the entire time I was out there, the trees were moaning.
It is Good Friday.
I woke after a strange sleep.
I had stayed up late (for me), checking at the top of the hours to support our Maundy Thursday Watch prayer leaders on Facebook Live. I wanted to check in and see how they were doing, see the response to our offering, and join in with prayer and encouragement. But I am one whom, you see, begins thinking about bedtime as the evening’s Jeopardy game rounds the corner to Double Jeopardy each night. Rarely am I awake past 9:30 or 10:00. And so, staying up even until 11:00 or midnight was a struggle. I enjoyed the early hours of the watch. And then, like the disciples in Gethsemane, I fell hard asleep.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you (men) keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)
I woke at 2:00 AM but couldn’t connect with the Watch, and so I fell back asleep, ready to try again at 3:00.
The next thing I knew, I woke with a start- at 6:30AM. I was disappointed that I had not faithfully kept watch, and wondered why I had slept a good two hours past my usual waking time.
It is Good Friday.
The day that always has me out of sorts. Discomfited. Rehearsing, again, the gruesome death of Jesus on the cross. Challenged, again- still- by all the various theologies of atonement ringing in my head: Substitutionary atonement, Satisfaction Theory, Moral Influence Theory, The Ransom Theory… and on they go. And struggling, too- again- with the boiled-down answer, the Reader’s Digest version, that says, simply: “Jesus died for my sins.” It’s just not that neat. It couldn’t be. And, as maddening and exacting as all of those medieval theologians were, I admire their fortitude, their integrity, and their deep desire to get it right. But every year, this leaves me unsettled.
And so, I planned to take to the trail.
But first, I spent 3 hours participating in the Good Friday offering of the Seven Last Words. A wonderful collection of homilies by seven lay and ordained speakers from around the diocese had been woven together with music, artwork and prayer in a fluid, thoughtful and contemplative offering to stir the soul. The Rev. Jim Strader-Sasser (Danville) organized this project as one of the daily offerings from the diocese for Holy Week. Like many three-hour services, it was rich and very dense. A lot to unpack.
And so I got out my boots and went to the woods.
It was cold.
It was super windy.
And the trees moaned. They rubbed their branches against each other and, fueled by the heavenly gusts, the motion of branch against branch made eerie noises: low, long moans; high pitched squeals; some so animate that I had to wonder if it wasn’t really a person crying, and not just wood against wood.
I saw crosses everywhere on my hike.
Last night’s storm left branches and trees scattered all over the usually manicured trail, and they all seemed to be lying at 90-degree angles.
It was Good Friday in the woods.
When I arrived in the parking lot at the trail head two hours earlier, there was another car there, having pulled in just ahead of me. As I yanked on my pack and got myself ready to go, I kept an eye on the car, waiting to see if a fellow hiker would emerge. I was anxious about social distancing, after all. No one got out. (On my whole hike, incidentally, I saw no one). As I made my way to the trail, passing by the car, I saw that the car was stuffed full of clothes and household goods. There were sheets covering the back windows. The occupant, I guessed, was intending on taking a nap in the otherwise empty parking lot.
And so, as I hiked among and between the moaning trees, thinking of Jesus, alone and dying on the cross, I also thought about the person in that car. Also alone. Homeless because of Corona? Joblessness? What? My head and heart was full of the sadness of the day- the yield of a gruesome day at Gethsemane, and sadness of another kind in that car with the sheet-covered windows.
The car was gone when I got back. And Jesus was dead.
I feel like I was at the foot of the cross today.
And now, like you, I will wait for all that today has been to be transformed into glory.
It will take three days, I’m told. Hold tight.