So here’s the thing about observing Holy Week; this whole thing should come with a huge spoiler alert. There is all of this drama as we walk through the last week of Jesus’ life; the high of Palm Sunday, the emotions of the Last Supper, the desolation of Good Friday. But we already know the ending! We know it comes out okay! So there is an impulse to jump to that happy ending. To temper down the hard and painful emotions. To make things more cheerful than they are.
But tonight, I want us to sit for a bit in the desolation of Good Friday. I invite us all to sit with our hard emotions; don’t dismiss them too quickly. There is value in paying attention to this difficult stuff.
Growing up I always hated the observance of Good Friday. It was dark and somber and kind of gruesome. My church tradition made a big deal about how horrific the crucifixion was and usually heaped in a good dose of guilt with the horror: Don’t you know how much Jesus suffered for you? So you should do and be better!
I remember when the Passion of the Christ came out with it’s bloody and violent scenes and if you didn’t want to see the film (or heaven forbid you saw the film and didn’t like it) it was said that you were a bad Christian. That made me uncomfortable. The fixation on Jesus’ death while ignoring his life never sat right with me.
But my tradition was also very much against asking questions or expressing doubt. Good Christians were the ones who had it all together; the ones who listened to church doctrine and believed and obeyed all of it.
Good Christians understood that humans were all horrifically sinful and because God was perfect God hated our sin and demanded the death of Jesus, the only Son, in order to appease God’s wrath. That picture of God as wrathful and kind of violent always made me a bit squeamish. And as I became more and more uncomfortable with what I had been taught I struggled with what to do about Good Friday.
I tried to ignore the crucifixion entirely, but jumping right to Easter didn’t seem to make sense either!
What was the meaning of the death of Jesus? Did it have any meaning at all or was it just senseless violence? What do we do with all of this? And in the midst of all of that there were other, deeper questions; was there room in Christianity for my doubt and confusion? Was their room in Christianity for me?
We all come from different backgrounds; but my guess is that all of us at some point or another have wrestled with doubt about our faith; Maybe we’ve asked whether or not God could love us. Maybe we’ve wondered if there was a place for us in the church. Or maybe we’ve questioned the meaning of the crucifixion; how a God of love could demand the death of a Son.
But what happens when we look at this story an entirely new way:
Jesus came to bring the Good News of God’s love to the world. He came to bring a message that said that the old rules of who was out and who was in didn’t apply anymore; that God’s love is so extravagant that EVERYONE is in. But he also brought a message of justice; that what it means to be in is to work for the good of the people around you, to take care of the people who are the most vulnerable. He preached and lived a life that said that there is enough to go around if only we would all share.
And then, like now, when people start to talk about sharing the people who have a lot get uncomfortable. Then, like now, when people talk about the poor having enough to eat and the rich being sent away hungry, people start to get angry.
When you preach a message of true justice; when you protest and call into question the rules of the day it can get you arrested or killed. We’ve seen it over and over again, people following in the way of Jesus who have spent time in jail or gotten killed; Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, the Berrigan Brothers, and Oscar Romero, to name just a few.
Jesus was a prophet and a teacher. An activist and a rabble rouser. And when he stood up to the Roman authorities and called into question their power and their rules they killed him. This isn’t a vengeful God demanding blood; this is simply what happens when you stand up for what’s right.
The crucifixion isn’t really the story; lots of people were crucified during Jesus’ lifetime. If you were part of a non-violent movement that got too rowdy, they would kill the leader in the hopes that everyone would scatter. The story is: spoiler alert! what happens on Sunday! That’s the game-changer.
So why observe Good Friday? Why spend a day remembering the death of Jesus? There is something amazing about Good Friday; it’s a day set aside where doubt reigns supreme, where fear is named, where we are allowed to sit with our discomfort. It’s a day when we remember that even the people who were the closest to Jesus got scared and ran away. Even his best friends thought the movement was over, that all was lost.
It’s a time when we can remember that working to bring about the Kingdom of God is hard. That proclaiming a world where there are no boundaries as to who is in and who is out is unpopular. That preaching that there is enough to go around if we’d all share can get you into trouble. There is time here to acknowledge that that getting into trouble is terrifying. There is time to admit that sometimes we like putting boundaries between us and other people. There is time to say that sometimes we don’t want to share what we have.
It’s a day when we can confront the times that we fall short in following Jesus; not as a means of guilt or shame but so that we can refocus and commit to doing better. But it’s also a day where we can rest in the fact that we don’t have to have it all together; that we can be selfish and scared and unfaithful and even in the midst of all of that we are still deeply loved by God.
Let’s sit with the fear, with our doubts, with the things that we don’t know and don’t understand. Let’s embrace this as a moment when we don’t have to have it all together. It’s a time when we can be okay with everything not being okay.
But in the midst of this somber day we also know that the story isn’t over yet; that even in the midst of depression, doubt, fear, and violence death doesn’t have the final word; even if it feels like today it does.