Friday, April 3, 2015

Why is Good Friday "Good"?

A friend of mine told me about somebody on her Facebook feed who was saying that she didn't like the name of "Good" Friday because she thinks that it would be more accurate to call it a crappy Friday given that Jesus died. It's definitely a sad Friday, and unfortunately certain "soteriologies" or theories about how salvation works, seem to tell us that Jesus' sins were substituted for our own and that all of the sins we've not even committed yet were responsible for slaying our savior. This theology doesn't lend itself to the healthiest of relationships with God or with ourselves!

When we say Jesus "died for our sins" what does that mean? Well, to understand that, you have to think a little bit about what sin actually is. If you think sin is each individual breaking of the Ten Commandments or the 'love one another' command of Jesus, then it makes sense that you might conclude that Jesus was "substituted" to bear our individual failings by proxy.  But this is an incomplete description of what's wrong in the world. After all, can an unborn baby "sin" in its mother's womb and cause it to be miscarried? Is God really so petty that God would punish a mother by killing her child? I don't think so. I think that this definition of sin misses the complexity, both of sin and subsequently God's response to it.

Did you ever ask yourself why Jesus specifically had to DIE in order to be punished enough? I mean, crucifixion, as punishments go, is about the most brutal one humanly possible. Surely being flogged, beaten, dragging a heavy cross, having nails driven through your hands and feet, and slowly asphyxiating while hanging for hours were a steep cost for our every petty dirty thought or whatever. It didn't just take any random guy from the street of Jerusalem to die, it took the son of God, the incarnation of God's vastness in finite human form. Why? Did God really need to make a point by murdering his son instead of just forgiving everybody? I think not.

But think about what it would mean if God created the earth and somehow because of our rebellious actions created a crack in reality that let death seep inside. What if our knowing and free will and ability to turn from God disrupted the harmony of the garden so that instead of simply tending the garden with pleasure all our days, we die. And not only that, but we die in horrible ways, in accidents and natural disasters and of ugly diseases. And we die way too young, as babies or children or young mothers. And we die alone, lonely, unknowing our worth, depressed and anxious and afraid. What if the things we do that hurt each other directly like breaking the Ten Commandments are the consequences of the deeper evil that came into our world, telling us lies about who we are, about our need to acquire goods and about what power means? What then, is sin, but a systematic brokenness that has affected every single molecule in this universe.

Then Jesus becomes a much more complicated answer. No longer is Jesus just lying down for that time you yelled at your sister and the lie you told to your boss when you were hungover and didn't want to come to work. Now Jesus is a supernatural warrior coming to defeat death and all its many consequences in the only way that death can be defeated: by dying and then not being dead after. Now we have a hero who boldly faces what all of us tremble before, the thing that drives us to hurt each other and steal, which tells us that real power means having the most or using people up. Now we have a hero whose death isn't mere substitution but a fundamental attack on the wicked forces which entrap us and drive us to injure one another in body, mind, and spirit. Now we have love so amazing, so divine, that not only took my sins but my death and my suffering and my fear and doubt and addiction and grief and loneliness and chronic pain and sexual assault and purposeless existence and with his great magic and might transformed those things into life, love, light, health, wholeness, community, healing, joy, gratitude, and vocation.

Jesus is the song of victory over not just something as small as individual sins but over every single failure and hurt and pain that has ever existed and ever will exist. Good Friday is good because we are not remembering "Good" Friday as a way to feel guilty for our sin, but because we stand in awe at the foot of the cross for a God whose power is so amazing that s/he became one of us and defeated all evil and buried it forever, planting in its tomb seeds of life. It's "good" because we go to Friday bearing the cross of our humanity and our grief and everything that has ever hurt us or another person, and we lay it down there because we "do not grieve as those who have no hope" (1 Thess 4:13) but as those going to a tomb on Sunday morning which we know will be empty!

Good Friday is a hard day. It's a sad day. Today I prayed for all my patients that they may be healed of their hurts and find their purpose, and my heart was heavy with their sorrows and the sorrows of the world. But I take my burdens to the cross because the cross of Christ is strong enough to hold them all, and point me to the message that on Easter morning the lilies will bloom over the frozen earth of our despair, and that we will one day have Easter morning every morning, every second of every day, and love will flood our world as bold and warm as the light of the sun. That is the "good"est news I can think of, so yeah, I think it's a good, Good Friday. Let the ground at Calvary hold your tears until they bloom into a field of joy when Easter comes. Amen.