Every Christian will eventually ask, what’s so good about Good Friday? How can a day that remembers such cruelty be called, in any sense, good?
Oh sure, everything about the life of Jesus of Nazareth: his birth, his teachings, his way of life, his miracles, seems to have brought him to this day. Sure now, it seemed to be one direct journey: from the manger to the cross.
All of this, everything leading up to his death and his death, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, is known as the Passion of Jesus Christ. But really, everything about him, from gifts brought to him by the Magi, to overturning the tables in the temple, to calming the storm, to healing the woman who touches his robe, to wordplay with Nicodemus, all of it is his passion. And God’s. If Jesus is the Son of God, and I believe he is, then his passion is God’s passion. We cannot claim that the God who created us, who created everything, is without passion. If God is a God of love then God is a God of passion. The Passion of Jesus Christ is the Passion of God.
Too often we candy coat our teachings about God and Jesus. Too often we treat them as nursery rhymes, like once-upon-a-time kind of stories. It is hard to get our minds around the level of pain remembered today, on this Good Friday; to make sense of the death of Jesus; to make sense of our salvation, especially when we see all around us, divine grace at work in other religious traditions and in the experience of faithful agnostics. Today we see, on this Good Friday, that divine love and human brokenness are present in the violence of the cross upon which Jesus was murdered.
The crucifixion, in and of itself, is not about what God did, it is about the extreme cruelty we are capable of. It is not about a crowd that hailed him as the Messiah and then called for his death a few days later. It is not about a mock trial and false witnesses. It is not about a frightened Pontus Pilate, desperate to keep the peace and secure his position.
It is about the fact that we live in a world characterized by many kinds of violence. A world characterized by explicit violence against the Earth. A world characterized by child and adult slavery and sex trafficking. A world characterized by political gridlock. A world characterized by a grotesque disparity between the wealthy and the poor. A world characterized by political unrest and the heating up of the Cold War.
In the midst of it all, God’s response to our violence is peace; to our cruelty – forgiveness; to our hatred – love. God has blessed us with a beautiful and plentiful Earth. God has blessed us with direction, with God’s indwelling Spirit. God has blessed us with memory, reason and skill. Yet we leave the decision-making to people more interested in wealth, power and their own sad principalities. God is with us and yet we more often act as though we are alone.
“Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?” is one of the great Good Friday hymns and of course, none of us were there – physically. But, we are all part of a world that continues to persecute prophets and promote celebrity. There are little crucifixions going on right now in our world, often unnoticed, but very real – death dealing actions that lead to melting polar icecaps. We are, for the most part, complacent in the face of mass starvation and genocide, apathetic at news of sex trafficking and human slavery. We are addicted to oil. And the list goes on – it is, as the Temptations sang in 1970, a Ball of Confusion.
Are we any better (morally or spiritually) than those who shouted for the crucifixion of Jesus, or those who stood idly by doing nothing to prevent it, or those who sentenced Jesus by their involvement in political and religious institutions? Are our political leaders – and we as voters – any more moral than Pilate? Are we only motivated by our self-interest and willing to let many people suffer or die for us and our fleeting comforts?
Today, this Good Friday, we affirm the tragic beauty of God’s relationship with us and with God’s whole creation. Dietrich Bonheoffer, from a prison cell, proclaims that only a suffering God can save.
Our God is a God that suffers and understands the plight of a fellow sufferer. The notion that God suffers (divine suffering) is thought to be a heresy by some people. They think that the divine nature is incapable of suffering – that the suffering of Jesus affected his humanity but left his divine nature untouched.
I think that the deeper problem is the belief that God does not suffer with the world. A changeless, unloving, and indifferent God neither heals nor saves. Good Friday proclaims the Passion of Jesus Christ, the Passion of God; that God suffered – the whole of God suffered – on the cross and in every moment that any part of God’s creation suffers.
It may be difficult to admit our complacency and guilt, but let’s, if just in this moment, on this Good Friday, say “yes” to the question, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” And let’s say “yes” to God’s grace that feels our pain and regret, and that knows the emptiness of our greed. Let us live in the hope that the God who feels our suffering also forgives and transforms, and enables us to rise up with new energies for personal and global healing.
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