Good Friday / Earth Day
For Christians walking through Holy Week, Good Friday is a day that stirs deep emotions. There is an emptiness in churches where the altars have been stripped. Our Good Friday liturgy begins in silence. We read John’s account of Jesus’ last hours (John 18:1 – 19:37), from the betrayal and arrest of Jesus through his death on the cross and the piercing of his side. The remembrance of Jesus’ pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual -- calls up deep sorrow and grief from us.
This year, Good Friday falls on the same date as Earth Day. Grief for the ways we have harmed the earth provides a common element between the two observances. Just as we go through our Good Friday grief and come out on the other side with Easter joy, the grief we experience when we witness environmental degradation and contemplate the future can show us some direction to find our way out to a place of meaning and Christian hope.
The average amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for March 2011 measured at the Mauna Loa observatory was 392.40 ppm; 350 ppm is generally considered to be the upper limit of the amount of CO2 that is safe for human beings and the other living things that sustain human life. (The last March reading below 350 ppm was in 1987. I recommend a look at the graph on the CO2 Now website) Rising CO2 levels result in ocean warming and acidification which are damaging shellfish and corals, and of course in rising world temperatures which melt ice, make oceans rise, and do much more. As the atmosphere warms, severe weather events become more frequent. Yesterday morning, The Weather Channel posted an update of severe weather in the United States in April. With the month not yet over, TWC says we have set a “tentative” record for the number of tornadoes in April. They also report this:
There have been over 5200 severe weather reports (tornadoes, hail, and high winds/wind damage) so far in April. On average, only about 3300 severe weather reports are tallied in an entire April nationwide.
There is grief in many communities where people have lost loved ones, homes, and businesses to tornadoes and other severe weather this spring.
The environmental damage linked to carbon emissions is only part of the damage that causes us grief this Earth Day. Japan has an ongoing nuclear crisis. Species extinction continues at an accelerated rate. Plastic pollution is everywhere. In a Huffington Post piece called Crucified Creation and the Hope of Eco-nomics Doug Demeo, a friend and GreenFaith Fellow, says that when he looks around the earth today “the weight of creation crucified seems too much to bear”. Doug talks about mountain top removal and hydro-fracking among other “environmental woes”.
Our Good Friday liturgy does something in the midst of our grief. After the story of Jesus’ final hours has been read, and perhaps a homily preached or a hymn sung that provides more reflection on the reading, we pray the Solemn Collects. Rather than staying stuck under the dead weight of grief, we open our hearts to the concerns of the Church and the world. With our hearts already broken open, these tend to be profound prayers.
It can be difficult to know where to begin doing something with our grief for the earth. With no significant national or international effort to address climate change or prevent future oil spills or stop covering the planet with plastic, we know our efforts are valiant but probably not enough. Yet just as our hearts are touched by Good Friday, our hearts are broken open by this grief, too. Prayers for the earth and her people are a good place to begin. We might pray for the Church and all people, praying that we continue to find meaning and hope in our lives even as the chances of sustaining life as we have known it on our planet get increasingly smaller. We might pray for open eyes, ears, minds, and hearts, for the ability to understand what we are facing and the will to do something about it.
The third of the Solemn Collects asks for the cry of those in misery and need to come to God; it also prays for God to “give us…the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us.” Gathering our strength and doing whatever we can to prevent and alleviate the human misery that results from environmental degradation is the only choice we have as followers of Christ. Environmentalist Bill McKibben said it in a different way in his speech at the Power Shift gathering in Washington, D.C. last weekend: “The only thing that a morally awake person can do when the worst thing that’s ever happened is happening is try to change those odds.”
When we choose to acknowledge the problems we face and to work to address them with so little evidence that we can succeed is when we draw on our faith and our hope; when we make that choice, we get out from under our grief and, drawing on our faith for strength, gather energy for the work ahead.