Good Friday can start to feel like a civil war reenactment once death has lost its sting. So what, then, do a resurrection people have left to discover on Good Friday? How does the holy-day serve liturgically to “shape” us as followers in the Jesus Way? To answer that I want to start by throwing out ways that Good Friday might misshape us, and some guesses as to why.
So, if you grew up in a popular American Christian experience like mine, Good Friday was a time to recall the miracle of the Romans Road, when the cross was laid over the pit of hell (complete with hazard cones warning drivers to beware of impending doom) delivering to safety those individuals who would accept the torture of Christ in a representative capacity for their own cosmic debt.
And if you’ve been on a similar journey as mine since, you’ve perhaps grown a bit cynical about that thoroughfare constructed 19 centuries after the fact out of 5 sentences of a 20 page letter to the Romans as well as its complimentary campaign reducing Jesus’ Good-Friday event to a rescue mission to hack into the Matrix and change God’s rules- a mission that God would have sent Jesus to do for me if, even if I were one and only human on the earth (and yes, I’m proud to say that the “I” here is me, the guy writing this post, and not necessarily you- at least that’s how I remember the shtick going).
And if you were living and breathing 7 years ago you had to have heard of or seen Gibson’s Passion of Christ. If it did its job, you might have gotten even more eeby-geeby about the gore and agony that Holy Week culminating in Good Friday represents. And perhaps you shake your head, like me, at those friends who watch it year after year hoping to shame the sin away by “identifying with the pain” of our savior, or hoping to leverage the cinematic shock-and-awe to drill a deeper well toward even deeper gratitude than the year before. But death-movies like Gibson’s have lost their sting to me.
So instead of blogging through biblical, theological or historical evidence that could either make you feel more self-confident, or could lead you to throw up your hands dismissing my argument as unfounded, I want to ask you to do a little exercise. It is a directed meditation that will require 10 minutes of your dedicated attention. Whether you’re reading this on your Driod or iPhone or laptop, or even if your secretary prints out RSS feeds from Josh’s blog and lays it on your desk next to your morning coffee, I need you to stop for a sec and get a blank sheet of paper.
SPOILER- don’t read ahead, trust your cells to the process and give yourself 10 minutes (9½ now) to go through this exercise. This means you too, my old friend who is scanning this because you’ve just got a minute. Go ahead and get the paper… I’ll wait:
- Okay, now take your piece of paper and fold it in half twice to make four equal quadrants. No need to draw any lines, the two creases should suffice.
- Turn it horizontally and write in the bottom right quadrant the names of people and organizations that fit the following categories:
- People you are against
- People who have hurt members of your family and those you love
- People who hurt you when you were young
- Groups that insult you or your friends or your religious practice
- Countries that mean harm to yours
- Political parties that sabotage what you see as right and just
- Pundits and media moguls who profit from demonizing you and people you value
- Companies, technologies, superstars, industries, ideologies, and leaders with power who misuse their power to devour others.
- That neighbor that you just can’t stand
- Now on the bottom left write the names of people and groups that you self identify with:
- Your family members
- Those who enjoy living, shopping, eating, and working in the same places as you
- Those who you help to get elected
- Non profits and special interest groups you donate time or money to
- Those who you’d take into your house when they need help.
- Those who have given you favors, breaks, and gifted you with opportunities to progress in life.
- Those who subscribe to and/or share your religious group’s gathering habits, styles, ideas, and language.
4. Now draw a horizontal line along the horizontal crease above the two groups.
The gospels give us a window into three years spent by Jesus re-imagining a place over that horizon in which the divisions below the horizon no longer exist. He saw a kingdom where those who were cursed would be blessed. He saw a world where the oppressed would carry the oppressor’s pack an extra mile. He saw a faith that would reunite the religious and irreligious. Jesus’ mission to “proclaim freedom to the prisoner, and good news to the poor” would affect the prison guards and the wealthy as well.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Jesus did not say every behavior, group, or ethical decision was “relative” or that grace abounded such that injustice or self-sabotage would be free from consequences. Jesus said he’d bring a sword between parent and child. He knew that his cruciform presence, his servant leadership would exacerbate divisions. That either side would have to fall like a seed into the ground and die to be born anew with eyes for that other horizon.
He challenged those entrusted with power to measure out consequences for injustice and self-sabotage. And this challenge would wear out those authorities (imperial and religious, as well as the public power of social media who would cry “crucify him”) until they resorted to the last resort–violent death.
- Now, draw a cross below the horizon, between the two sides somewhere along the vertical crease (of course I have ideas for what you could draw above the horizon, but this is a Good Friday blog not an Easter Sunday one).
My beef with the Romans Road is that it trains our imagination to think of ourselves first. And when that is our primary metaphor it can pervert the power of Good Friday into a therapeutic form of asceticism. Instead of imaging this Good Friday, that it’s all about a back room deal to get you and those in your group on the bridge over troubled waters, image that the divisions of your everyday life are made physical, demonstrated in the crudest most humiliating of forms. The cross and the torture devises of empire belong below the horizon line of the promised future. What changes the crucifixion’s cruel macabre character is Jesus’ vision for what lay beyond it’s horizon. Empire and death are made a laughing stock on the resurrection side of that horizon. Join Christ on the road to Calvary by laying down your arms, your defenses, your revenge, your bounded sets, by daring what CS Lewis liked to call the “deeper magic” to happen.
No doubt, death is real. We feel it to our bones and it is serious stuff. But Good Friday’s glory does not come from death’s gravity. Good Friday is Good because it is the masterful cosmic foreshadowing of the prevailing community of forgiveness. The vision of the Crucified one, on Friday of Holy week, is good news to everything on this side of the horizon, it is proof that God would not want any single one to be left out of the story. ‘Even if you or I would dream it otherwise.
Do you recall that curtain ripping in the Holy of Holies at the strike of 3pm? Paul would later write that the dividing wall between people is also removed (Eph 2.13-16). So, what shall separate us from the fellowship forming love of God in Christ Jesus? Nothing! There is no longer Covenanters or pagans, no longer male and female, no longer enslaved or free citizen… all things are made new. Even that old foe, death, no longer has its stinging capacity to separate us. The empty cross proves that corporeal threat is impotent in the face of God’s love, and the empty tomb proves that sacrificial death is empty too. Jesus was betting on that! Good Friday is the inhaling of the deeper magic. On Good Friday, we are invited to join Christ in letting-go of the demand we hold on others and in letting-come the power to forgive, heal, reconcile and belong within a New Creation.
Have a Good Friday!
Troy Bronsink is an artist and a pastor seeking the way of Jesus. He and his wife, Kelley, and daughter, Eve, live in the Capitol View neighborhood of downtown Atlanta, where they work in community organizing and public education. Troy is the abbot of Neighbors Abbey, co-leader of the Atlanta Emergent Cohort, & contributing author to the 2007 Baker Emersion release, “An Emergent Manifesto of Hope”.