I’ve never been quite sure what the “good” in Good Friday meant. Perhaps we see beyond the pain, torture and death of Christ to the event of Easter. We live in those awful moments not in the moment itself, but in the promise of Sunday.
That seems to trivialize it a bit for me, and it doesn’t satisfy. I know that the Passover, celebrated as the Last Supper by Christians is that wonderful celebration by Jews of the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It celebrates freedom. And no doubt as the Synoptic Gospels relate, this date for the Last Supper of Jesus (the first night of Passover) serves to symbolize our liberation from sin.
John changes the mix a bit by placing the Last Supper not on the first night of Passover, but the day before, when the lambs are slain for the meal. He likens Jesus to the lamb slain. The general symbolism remains the same.
I am not a believer of substitutionary sin–the theory that Jesus took upon himself our sins and died for them– a demand of a God who requires payment for a sinful world. Such a God, to me at least, is both harsh and ugly–sending his own son to die in the most horrible of ways.
Rather I see, (note that these ideas are surely not my own, but are the theology of many a learned scholar and teacher as well as believers) that Jesus by his willingness to die for his beliefs, shows us the perfect way to engage with this creator we call God. Jesus, in dying, pays the ultimate price for principle, the foundational principle of life–love, no matter what the cost.
For this is the essence of the God that Jesus points us towards. A God who is unimpressed by formulaic ritual and a God saddened by our tendencies to divide ourselves into groups of “saved” “faithful” or “pious” and all others who somehow by human standards fail to reach the mark. So saddened is God by our divisiveness that Jesus shows through his willingness to endure scorn, beating and tortuous death, that even the least among us is worthy of dying for.
As we struggle in our daily lives to come to grips with the deep agonies that divide us as a people and as a world, Jesus on the Cross, stands as testament to the strength that we too can express if we are willing to take up that Cross ourselves and stand for love at all costs.
Jesus stands against those whose primary goal is to protect “number one”. He stands against those who are motivated by greed, self-preservation, and egotistical individual ruggedness. He points the way to a God of grace and love, who calls us daily to be bigger than our selves in our love of brother and sister. This God, so real, so in love with His creation that He becomes one of us, in an effort to show us, by his teaching, suffering and death, what He is really all about.
I speak not of Jesus as the son of God, but as the Son of Man, for the reality or fantasy of Jesus as the incarnate God is beside the point really. If Jesus is so infused with the Spirit of the Transcendent One, then it matters not the creeds we dutifully recite each Sunday. Jesus moved aside as human, and allowed the Spirit of God to envelop him so completely that God really was among us.
All the more important that we be especially careful to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of the Church. More and more I find them quite different beings, with quite different agendas. After having read much, I am still in love with Paul and his exuberance for the Gospel, but I recognize that Paul molded the ensuing Church and molded Jesus into that Church. I’m not so sure that it is the Jesus of history whom he never met in the flesh.
We must comb the Gospels carefully I think to find that Jesus–that gentle yet firebrand individual who sought to bring all into the house of God, as true and perfect children. He tenderly attended to the needs of the most broken and rejected in society without asking of them anything in return, other than to put God first in their lives. His anger was invoked by those whom he saw as impeding the people in their attempt to know their God. He pointed the finger and accused them of having lost all sense of why they were doing what they did. It had all become for show, for power, and for accolades.
True piety rested with the many Marys who lived with the Master, the self-less women who sat at his feet, absorbing his wisdom, who anointed his head, washed his feet, and knelt at the foot of the cross, and ultimately went to dress his broken and dead body, and found to their amazement that his real presence washed over them.
If we learn anything from the Friday, called Good, it is that we too can approach God in these simple acts of service–not by asking questions about who deserves and who doesn’t deserve our acts, but in simply being willing to give in love, knowing that the Spirit of God inhabits each and every one of God’s created beings.
Have a blessed Easter Time.
(I know that many of you who read this are not religious, and at best agnostic if not actually atheistic in your outlook. But I think that whatever you believe, you are beloved and understood and accepted by God as you are, and I hope the sentiments I express, resonate in that “human” way that knows no faith.)