This Good Friday post will sound similar to the one I wrote last year; and similar to the one I wrote 4 years ago when I first experienced Good Friday in Guatemala. Why share similar thoughts year after year? Because year after year I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of this tradition, by a people’s ability to capture the essence of sacrifice, by how a country slows down, steps back from the daily grind, and takes time to remember Christ’s work on the cross.
The tradition has evolved over time for families and churches to come together and “pave” the streets with carpets made of flowers, colored sand, fruit, and other materials. The processions start with the start of Lent, and continue through the Lenten season until Holy Week. During Holy Week, there are processions and carpets everyday, culminating in a beautiful Good Friday celebration. People truly sacrifice to be a part of remembering Jesus’ journey to the cross, his death. Families start making their carpets Thursday at midnight, work through the night, and finish just in time to have the honor of a float carrying the image of Christ to pass over. Then they start again. There are three main Good Friday processions – a 5am that carries the stations of the cross; a noon that portrays Christ carrying the cross; a 3pm where Christ is in the grave.
In addition, those who are carrying the heavy processional floats actually pay to secure a spot in the procession. Another sacrifice – just to feel the burden of the cross; to experience a fraction of what Christ did that day.
Is it really a deeply religious experience for those in the processions? A look across the crowd will show, like anywhere, that it’s a mix. From men and women with tears in their eyes, to those talking on cell phones and eating ice cream, processions create space for people from different places in their faith to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection.
I was watching this year – as first the Roman guard passed by, then the incense, then Christ and his cross. I was a bit distracted by the crowds when my sister – in -law said, “I almost can’t handle this.” At first I thought she was talking about the crowds or the incense, but then she said, “all we do is go to church and then look for some Easter eggs.” It hit me that she was experiencing the beauty, the pain, the conflict that is the cross – she helped me refocus on the story that was unfolding before me, thousands of years after it originally unfolded.
If you ever have the chance to be in Guatemala on Good Friday, take it. It’s truly a unique experience. I’m thankful for the culture, tradition, and religious climate that enables me to experience this year after year.