Theology

The trouble with Good Friday

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The day of Easter is the culmination of the story of God’s plan for salvation — a reminder that death does not have the last word. But before Easter, a happy day is festivity, comes Good Friday: a day of darkness when Jesus was crucified, and the Jews were blamed for it.

Good Friday is hard for me. Rather than a day of reflection about my sins, it’s a day in which I remember the anti-semitism of my childhood. It’s when I am reminded of the neighbor girl whose mother slammed the door in my 7-year-old face when I went over to ask if she could play, and later told my mother she didn’t want her little girl being exposed to “Christ-killers.” I’m reminded of notes and comments from classmates begging me to not “reject” Jesus; some of whom were prompted by their parents to do so.

Back then, my fascination with the God incarnate who enters into humanity’s suffering (as told in my memoir, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter) had yet to take form. All I knew of Jesus was that he lived a very long time ago, and I was somehow responsible for his death.

I still have a hard time going to church on Good Friday and listening to the Gospel readings in which the Jews cry “Crucify him!” I struggle even to read those passages on my own.

Jesus’ death had redemptive purposes for humanity, but the political implications are all I’m able to think about. I think about how, even if the gospel writers may not have intended for their words to be anti-semitic, they have nonetheless been interpreted that way. I grapple with why that is.

That is one reason why I cannot support Passover seders hosted by churches. Even if it’s a tradition that some Christians find meaningful, it’s the willfully ignoring Jewish voices who find them offensive that bothers me. I get on my soapbox about this every year, and every time I do, someone will tell me to “get over it,” to stop being such a snowflake, or even that my feelings are not supported by Scripture.

Setting aside the fact that historians don’t believe Jesus ate a traditional Passover meal, such responses from people who claim to follow Christ reveal a shocking lack of compassion. It’s not exactly a secret that Jewish-Christian relations have been fraught through the ages. Why participate in an event that makes it worse? It’s not as if Good Friday doesn’t have its own rituals already.

I have previously written about other alternatives that Christians can do instead of co-opting the Passover seder. But here is how I keep my focus on the resurrection rather than the dark past at this time of year. I remind myself that

Redemption came through the cross

God knew what would happen to Jesus from the dawn of creation. The crucifixion wasn’t Plan B. Therefore, debating who is responsible for killing him is not nearly as important as why he was killed. Actually, that debate misses the point entirely.

Death is not the end of the story

The crucifixion loses its power without the resurrection; that’s where the real hope lies. That is what we celebrate. Jesus defeated the grave; he didn’t stay there, and he is alive today.

Death is not the only part of the Passion worth reflecting on

These words from New Testament scholar (and Orthodox Jew!) Amy-Jill Levine’s book, Entering the Passion of Jesus, are worth a few moments of serious meditation:

Entering the Passion means risk-taking; it means facing our fears, our failures, and our faults, and addressing them. Whom have we betrayed? Denied? Condemned?

Entering the Passion means taking seriously, really seriously, what it means to be in Communion, and to participate in that fellowship with others.

Entering the Passion should give us courage — courage to lament, to embrace righteous anger, to see the course to the end.

Entering the Passion should give us comfort as well — the comfort of knowing that death is not the end of the story, and the comfort of knowing that the Good News continues not just when people proclaim it, but when they enact it.