This is a little absurd isn’t it? Sitting here, in the dark, at a Friday night funeral. Hearing the death story of one poor peasant from a town called Nazareth. Much too soon, Jesus’ life and light were snuffed out, crushed down, drained thin…all for the sake of good order. So that Jesus wouldn’t lead his people into a revolt against Rome and the emperor…which ended up happening anyways thirty years later. This is a little absurd, isn’t it? Sitting here, in the dark, at a Friday night funeral and having the audacity to call this Friday “good”?
What is good about today? Perhaps we should go back to calling it “Black Friday.” Luke writes that on this day, “darkness came over the whole land;” for three hours, the sun’s light failed. Even creation mourned this day. Calling it “Black Friday,” would not only hint at the tragic torturing of Jesus, until the weight of his own body suffocated him, but calling it “Black Friday, might also remind us of the tragic torture of millions of targeted Jews done on this night for the past two thousands year by Christians rioting after hearing the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Millions of Jews have been killed on this night because of this story. So much evil has happened on this day, who thought to label it any different?
For sometime now, I have cringed at the adjective “good” that stains the Friday before Easter. I cannot help but ask, what is good about today? Is it that a man was put to death in way that was intended to be as painful as possible? I don’t think so. Is it because a man who gave his life to living out God’s endearment for the world was publicly mocked, beaten, spit upon, and humiliated? I hope not. It is because someone else suffered on my behalf and I got off scot-free? No, that isn’t it either.
But, perhaps I am seeing it all wrong. Perhaps what is good about Good Friday isn’t what happened to Jesus, but what happens to us. I recently read a line that said, “People die pretty much how they lived.” (Long, Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral, 110). “If someone has been enraged throughout life, we can expect rage at the end. A person who tries to bargain with life, family, physicians, and God on death’s door has probably tried to cut a few deals before.” And, at least as it is portrayed in Luke’s gospel, the same is true for Jesus…he died the same way he lived. He forgave his enemies, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” He embodied God’s loving presence –“God with us”- promising his neighbor, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” And finally, knowing he belongs to no one else but God. “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” He gave his life over to the One who created him, instead of having it ripped from his hands by the ones trying destroy him. As one preacher puts it, “One moment, there was a tug of war between the good guys and the bad guys. The next moment, Jesus simply opened his hands [letting go of the rope] and those who thought they had nailed him fell right on top of each other.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way). “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” Jesus says, claiming control over his life instead of falling victim to the control of Rome.
What is good about today is not what happens to Jesus, but what happens to us. We are given witness to a faith for which we thirst. A faith that says God desires justice and loves mercy. A faith that God will draw near to us, even in the darkest of moments. A faith that we are claimed by God, and only God, as God’s beloved.
Jesus died the same way that he lived. And when everything was said and done, Luke’s gospel says that the temple curtain was torn in two. The temple curtain, that fabric wall that was said to separate God’s presence in the temple from the people, was torn in two. Those iron bars that held God hostage for only those deemed “clean”, were broken, releasing God out into the world to love us, though we are not yet loveable and “to transform us from the inside out.” (DJ Hall, Why Christian, 30). What is good about today is not what happened to Jesus, but what happens to us.
I like the way Barbara Brown Taylor, a famous preacher, puts it:
Today, on the quietest day of the year, we have come to sit in the presence of one who was fully who God created him to be every day of his life—who loved God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, and with all his mind—and who loved his friends so much that he stepped into the oncoming traffic of death in order to push them out of the way. He furthermore did it all with no more than the basic human equipment—a beating heart, two good hands, a holy vision, and some companions who could see it too—thereby showing the rest of us humans that such a life is not beyond our reach. Whatever else happens on Sunday, here is enough reason to call this Friday Good. (Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way)
I think that Taylor is right and there is enough to call this Friday good. But the good ought to have a little asterisks by it reminding us, that today is also Black Friday. We lost one of our own today. One who dared to live with the love of God in his heart. One who lived out who he was born to be by putting himself on the line for a life of love and justice that simply would not stop burning within him. AMEN