Good Friday. I never understood why they called it that. How can a day that commemorates the brutal torture and inevitable death of an innocent man be considered good? Are we really that bloodthirsty that we can find such joy in such a bloody, violent, pain-filled day?
It's noon. If we were on Jerusalem time, we would be anticipating the moment where the lights go out, where darkness covered the land. We'd be approaching the beginning of the final three hours before Jesus spoke his last words and heaved his last breath. We'd be getting closer and closer to the moment where the veil separating the sacred from the profane. In short, we'd be nearing the end.
Mark's gospel recounts those agonizing final three hours as follows:
From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died. The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.” (Mark 15:33-39, CEB).
Growing up, the majority of the theology with which I was raised taught me that the death of Jesus was willed by God the Father, a plan potentially set in motion before the beginning of time. The fact was God knew humanity would mess up and fall short, and being the kind of God whose honor and authority could only be restored by way of the blood of an innocent, who better to sacrifice than God's own Son. No full-blooded human, born of both man and woman, would ever be able to satiate God's appetite, God's holiness. So Jesus, from the moment that humankind was created, prepared to come down and die.
In some denominations, so much emphasis is placed on the death of Jesus that the rest of his life is but a mere shadow, overwhelmed by the darkness of humanity's sinful nature. Jesus had to die, and he had no say in the matter. On that day, not only was Christ stripped of his skin and his dignity. He also lost his agency.
How would we feel about Good Friday if we recognized it as a commemoration and celebration of rape?
A couple of years ago, I was in Ohio for the bi-annual convocation for Reconciling Ministries Network, the external caucus of the United Methodist Church that lobbies for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the denomination. There I met a clergy-woman, Leigh. I don't really know what prompted me to ask her about this particular topic. Maybe it was the kindness in her eyes, the gentleness of her smile. Maybe it was the inherent trust I had in her knowing that she was a mother of a gay son who fully loved, supported, and affirmed her child despite what her denomination taught and expected of her.
I asked her what she thought about atonement theology and salvation. Did Jesus have to die? What does it say about God's character that God demands blood as payment for humankind's shortcomings? Do we really have to blindly accept the outpouring of Christ's blood, bathing in it, in order for God to not look at us without thinking we're complete and utter pieces of shit? None of it made sense to me anymore. Having been the victim of abuse, and having loved people who shared that experience, I could not wrap my head around the standard interpretation of this weekend.
Leigh put it this way: maybe the blood has nothing to do with it...
Maybe the whole point of that ugly, violent event was for Jesus to show us what we look like, act like, when we're at our worst.
Maybe there's nothing for us to accept. No mandatory sinner's prayer. No deliberate acceptance. Maybe all we have to do is sit and watch. Think. Feel. Acknowledge. Maybe God didn't mandate the death at all. What if it was luck of the draw? Jesus was going to live the way he lived no matter what. That's who he was. That was his character. Maybe his death happened because we willed it. Maybe there was a choice available to those responsible for his execution. Maybe someone could have stopped it. Maybe Jesus could have lived a long, happy life instead of having his light snuffed out by people operating out of sheer fear.
Today is Good Friday. For me, I choose to see this day as an opportunity to examine my own darkness, my own brokenness. Today I take the time to think about how I can do better, how I can get it right. Today I honor the lives around me. Their beauty. Their worth. Their value. I mourn the loss of innocence. I mourn unnecessary death. I grieve blatant and gratuitous violence. Today I hope that one day, Friday after Friday will indeed be good, not because anyone died, but because we lived. Because we embraced life.