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.

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5 thoughts on “The trouble with Good Friday”

  1. Good Friday is difficult for me–and was my tip-off actually to come out of Christianity after trudging along believing what I was told for over two decades in it. You simply can’t–no matter how you try*–get the required three days and three nights out of a Friday crucifixion. My church leadership insisted I believe something THAT WAS NOT TRUE. The whole Easter/Lent/Good Friday thing is a pagan ANTI-SEMITIC exercise on the part of the church from 4th century and following.
    *even if I give you the day Friday when he wasn’t even in the grave yet as Day 1
    Night one–Friday night
    Day Two (really day one) – Saturday
    Night Two – Saturday night
    Sunday (but really was he in the earth on this day–no, because when he came to Mary it was so dark she had to hear his voice, but I’ll give it to you anyway) – Day 3
    Where’s night three?
    Christians who borrow the Passover do so for one of two reasons: Cultural appropriation–they think it’s relevant or something PC OR, like me (though I’m not a Christian now) truly see the commandment was never rescinded by the Creator who made it in the first place.

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    1. The “third day” confusion is due to the Medieval way of counting. We are accustomed to number lines and measuring intervals, but that’s a modern way of thinking about it. To the Medieval mind, Friday was the first day, Saturday the second day, and Sunday the third day.

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      1. The truth has nothing to do with any medieval reckoning. A JEW, the Savior himself, said he would be in the earth according to the sign of Jonah–THREE days, THREE nights. Are you gonna tap dance around that? Are you going to question Him? There are STILL not three nights in there. Try again. OR you can start reading what’s there instead of through some faulty lens of doctrine. For your study purposes: Matthew 12:38-40,

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  2. A really good post but painful to read.Christians can be so cruel.We often wonder why anyone would want to be a Christian.We totally support you on your stance regarding Christian churches and Seder.It’s disrespectful and a bit arrogant.
    Ah this continued blame of the Jews for the crucification.We crucify Jesus every day with our cruelty and love of war.Over 20,000 kids in the third world die every die of starvation and preventable diseases……and we western christians are much of the cause.
    As always we appreciate you, support you and encourage you to keep up your good and necessary work’

    Thank you
    Elizabeth and Robert

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  3. Not only that. Other antisemitic prejudice have been fabricated by the catholic church. Especially the “rich jew” trope.

    Once upon a time, there was a continent dominated by the catholic church. All people living there were good catholics. Really all of them? No, a tiny group of jews was struggling to survive here despite the hostility of the powerful majority, and no legal access to land owning.

    Then it happened that the catholic leaders, in their infinite wisdom, thirsty for the morality of the good catholics, went to forbid jobs that were dirty for the mind or the body. Namely, banking and hide working. At the same time, most other jobs, especially the then-central agriculture, were forbidden to jews, those mistreated unbelievers. So what happened? Jews took the dirty jobs – because they had no choice.

    And those jobs were actually lucrative. Deprived by the law of any opposition, the jews thrived in those trades, some of them actually ended up rather rich…which fueled insane amounts of jealousy amongst the catholics(who had themselves created the situation).

    The rest is history.

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