Preached on 30 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Good Friday, Year B
There is nothing unique about Good Friday.
That may be the most disturbing and sorrowful thing about this most solemn day in the Christian year.
It’s not unique. It’s not even unusual. In fact, it is common.
A person challenges the system of domination that keeps some people down, poor, powerless, voiceless, and props up others to protect and increase their wealth and power and prestige. The people with power fight back, often using some of the poor and powerless who appear to have no other choice other than to cooperate with the system. Or they stoke their fears to the point of violence.
And someone dies. Someone dies a public, humiliating death; a spectacle, a warning.
Or, someone dies an equally humiliating, but anonymous death. They are disappeared, intimidated, tortured, buried in a mass grave, if they’re buried at all. Or they may be returned, broken, alive-but-dead, buried, in effect, amongst the living. A warning. The message is the same – Your lives don’t matter.
It’s been common throughout history. It was common in Jesus’ day. He wasn’t executed alone. There were two other insurgents who were crucified along with him that day. Thousands of political dissidents were crucified by the Romans; a warning to any who might think of challenging them. A warning to the Priests and the Scribes and the Pharisees and the Tax Collectors.
It is all too common now, not only in places that we may call corrupt or backward or authoritarian, but right here. Sometimes the system can keep its hands clean by stoking fear, so that one of the “powerless” steps up and kills the challenger – think of the assassination of Martin Luther King.
And in the process, many people are killed even when they’re not challenging the system. Police wearing bullet-proof vests shoot and kill a man in his own backyard because they thought the cell phone in his hand might be a gun. Even collateral damage is a warning: Don’t even think about challenging us. You might get caught in the crossfire.
So, you see, there’s nothing unique about Good Friday. It is as common as Friday and it is so very, very human. The systems of domination fight back and they fight dirty. That system may be called empire or fascism or communism or capitalism or totalitarian or authoritarian, but whatever the name it’s aimed at domination. We humans have come up with an astonishing number of ways to control and oppress and dominate our fellow human beings.
What is astonishing and humbling about Good Friday, though, is that God chose to enter into our mess of a world as one of us; and not as one of those in the top of the system, one with power, but as one of the poor, the powerless, the voiceless. God chose to risk this kind of death – knowing that it was practically inevitable.
Good Friday is only unique when we look at it through the lens of Easter. We already know what comes next in Jesus’ story, and it’s so tempting to jump ahead. But let’s not. Let’s stay in Friday and come alongside some of the other people in the story. There is nothing unique about their experience of Friday, either.
Let’s name them. The soldiers and authorities who pursue Jesus at night in a park where he often goes with his friends to talk and enjoy an evening.
His mock trial and the crowd who anonymously convict him; there are not even any real charges or witnesses in John’s gospel.
The people along the road as Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha. Some may be silent, grieving supporters; people who had hoped he really would save them by overthrowing Rome and restoring Israel. Some may be there for the spectacle. Some may be cheering the return of Law and Order.
Then there are those who crucify him and take his clothes and guard the crosses, so no one saves the victims. I wonder what they’re thinking and feeling? Is it just another day at the office for them? Have they become numb? Or is this carnage slowly destroying their souls?
What about the absent ones; those who fled when the trouble started? Where are they? Are they afraid that they will be the next ones to be crucified? Have their hopes been destroyed? Do they remember, yet, what Jesus said; that he told them that this would happen? They must be devastated, confused. They’re probably feeling either guilty or foolish; or both.
Then there are Jesus’ mother and the women standing near the cross, and of course, the beloved disciple.
How many mothers have watched a child, even a grown child die? How many have arrived too late, only to find the body of their precious child, lying alone on the street, behind a fence made of police crime scene tape, or surrounded by the rubble left by bombs. How many mothers have held their children dying of hunger while food rots in landfills? How many mothers have grieved their children, dead from countless other ways that human systems kill?
How many communities of women and friends have gathered around the loss of one of their own, one who had such promise; one who offered hope for the future? One who now lies dead.
And let’s not forget about God. God grieves the death, not only of Jesus, but the death of every single one of these.
On this Good Friday, may our grief and compassion be stirred for all of the people in our lives and in the world who are going through such a Friday of their own.
Because, you see, there is nothing unique about Good Friday.