Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Finding the "Good" in Good Friday

This is the day when we ponder Christ's suffering and death; the day when the cross is draped in black. They day when all the candles are snuffed out and darkness reigns. It's the day of pondering Christ's death, His suffering, His crying out (the 'seven last words'), His reproach. With a narrative like this, one would think that the point is to fully enter in to the suffering of Jesus, empathizing, and responding with a kind of sorrow filled gratitude... He did that FOR ME?

While such sorrow-gratitude has a measure of appropriateness to it, that kind of response would hardly merit this day being called "Good Friday". Black Friday, Dark Friday, Death Friday, perhaps; but not Good Friday. What are we to make of this?

1. It's "good" because this is where Christ became "propitiation". That's nothing more than a fancy word indicating that the breach of relationship between God and humanity was healed through Christ's death on the cross. A careful reading of I John 2 reveals the reality that God's not mad anymore... at anyone. Christ's death absorbed the wrath of God. Sure, you can argue about whether God should have wrath, just like you could argue about whether the sky should be blue, or whether water should be the sustaining liquid for the world rather than the milk of cows. But you're not running the universe, and neither am I, so declaring that we don't like the way God has set it up doesn't ultimate change things. What does change things, if the Bible is true, is Christ's death. It means that no longer is anyone judged on the basis of their own righteousness (or lack thereof), unless, by rejecting God's gift, they demand to be judged on their own merit instead of Christ's. That's always an option, but not one I'd choose.

2. It's "good" because dead people leaving their graves became a 'down payment' on a future world where all death, disease, destruction, war, pollution, greed, hatred, will be destroyed. We're invited to live now in the goodness and hope of the world that will someday come in fullness, and we're given the capacity to do so because of what happened on the cross. Death paved the way for life.

Good Friday marks the convergence of darkness and light, because the darkness of Jesus death marked the beginning of the brightness that IS, and SHALL BE the hope of Christ's Reign, a hope that will heal the world, a hope that could be inaugurated in no way other than by His death.

Good? Yes, like the goodness that comes when someone gives you BOTH their kidneys so that you can live; like the goodness that comes from realizing that someone covered your school debt, so now you're free to serve in the Peace Corp, or dig wells in India; like the goodness that comes from realizing that, through the death of a revolutionary, a regime of darkness has been toppled. It's good, certainly. But it's goodness at a cost. And we distort the gospel tragically if we fixate on either the goodness, ignoring the cost, or vice versa. That's why they call Good AND drape the cross in black.


At 10/4/09 13:07, Anonymous Pam said...

Well said Richard, and there's even more...
As we symbolically allow ourselves to plunge into darkness, we're able, if we dare, to understand in a deeper way the darkness of a world that doen't know the resurrection hope. We can taste their sorrow, their hopelessness, their anger at a world that isn't turning out the way they thought it would.
When we identify with that great sorrow, we have even greater reason to proclaim the profound hope to our world that we already know.
The good news is good news indeed. Why do we keep it to ourselves so often?

At 10/4/09 14:26, Blogger Kevin said...

I'll agree with you 100% on your second point, that the death of Christ ushered in the immanent reality of the Kingdom of God, but I rightly hesitate when it comes to theologies of propitiation and atonement, and I wonder if God's wrath was really present at the crucifixion and in need of satisfaction. Further, I would question whether God is truly wrathful or if we simply need God to be wrathful. Do we need to feel truly wretched and worthy of wrath in order to feel forgiven by God? It would seem to me that many of the parables by which Christ described the Kingdom of God used imagery that was distinctly wrath-less: the prodigal was thrown a party in spite of his offense, the sheep that went astray was found at the expense of his brothers and sisters, the workers who came late to the vineyard were accorded the same blessings as those that came earlier and toiled longer. The Kingdom is about more than mercy, though, and the Kingdom parables also convey a sense of justice and judgment. However, the marriage between God’s perfect mercy and perfect justice is beyond our comprehension. Are we reading our own imperfect notions of mercy and justice into the Kingdom and thus into the King? Do we make God wrathful because we are incapable of understanding how to behave otherwise?

These are good questions, Richard, not philosophical rabbit holes. We need to listen to them and consider them. We need also to listen to our feelings, listen to what our bodies are saying in response to the Spirit’s movement. The cross is about intimacy, about the bridging of an uncrossable divide and the reconciliation of humanity to God. If there are doubts and concerns, problematic questions and theological loose-ends, why brush them aside? Why not bring them to the foot of that same cross that they might be transformed and even glorified?


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