Good Friday April 6, 2012
What is it about tragedies that draw the crowds? Since the early days of theatres, humanity has been captivated by stories of star crossed love, sacrificing heroes, and disaster. We go to movies and weep in the darkness when the protagonist dies. Recently, researchers looked at why this was – why did we find this appeal in unhappy events. They discovered in interviews that it was not because we necessarily empathize with the victim or the sacrificing hero. It was more because it makes us feel better about our own lives. It makes us appreciate what we all have relative to the disaster on screen. It’s a psychological pick-me-up. Things could always be worse, we say. And we go home, havng dried our eyes, feeling better.
Well, this is not one of those stories. This is not that kind of day. Good Friday is not about feeling better. It is not about looking at that crazed mob, or the helpless disciples, or Jesus upon the cross, and thinking: My life sitting here safe and sound is pretty good. Things could always be worse.
Our task today as Christians is to place ourselves in that scene, not to escape it the minute we leave this church. Our task today is to live in it, and to take responsibility for it.
So, do this now: Find your place.
Be Judas, who has lost his way, who has given up Jesus for the sake of a few coins. Judas, who will relish that feeling of that silver in his hand for but a few minutes. That is until the heart-sickening feeling in the pit of stomach eats at him and he realizes the gravity of what he is doing. And worse the feeling that he cannot fix it, he cannot stop it. Be Judas: who lost his way to greed.
Be the disciples, who one by one rejected Jesus, not for greed, but out of cowardice, which may be worse. See the Roman soldiers staring you in the eyes, demanding: “Do you know this man? Do you know this man?” His sword is drawn, he is ready to arrest you. And in that moment, everything that you have aspired to since you began the journey from Galilee, collapses. Everything is forgotten. “No,” you say, “I don’t know him.” You betray Jesus with a shrug and turn away. Be the disciple: who lost his way to cowardice.
Be Pontius Pilate, shirking responsibility as a leader. You know that Jesus is guilty of no crime, that he is innocent. You could take a stand and set him free – it is within your power. But you don’t really care. The mob is hungry and it is easier to just give them what they want. So you do, you wash your hands. You stare Jesus in the eyes, and you leave the decisions to others, knowing exactly what they will decide. That is your part in it: Be Pontius Pilate, who lost his way to weakness of leadership.
Be the one in the crowd, sweaty and stifling, with strangers pushing around you. You can hardly see the place where Pontius Pilate stands before you, asking what should be done with Jesus. Someone shouts, “Crucify him! Crucify Him!” and you join in, pulled along with everyone else. It’s your shouting that gets the crowd behind you going, so you are not an innocent bystander. You too are an accomplice. But you feel a part of something, like a community of doers. You feel powerful that this decision is in your hands, and you like that feeling, even if you know it is wrong to like it, even if you know that it’s ugly what the mob is doing. But like Judas, you are in the moment. Perhaps, on you way home, you will see women weeping in the streets – those followers of Jesus. And you will scorn them, even as the doubt takes hold. Only later, will you realize your weakness. And you will have to live with your part in the story. Be the faceless one in the mob, who refused to stand up and be truly counted.
And now, be Jesus. Forced to bear the weight of the cross up the long hill to Golgotha, with your back breaking under the weight. All around you angry faces are shouting for your death, crowding out the few who might come to your aid. At the top of the hill, they hammer the spikes through your palms and pin you to the cross, and then your feet, crossed over one another. They lift the cross high and leave you there to die, slowly. Everyone has left you. Your closest friends have betrayed you – though even in your weakness you take one last chance to keep them in community with one another, to make reparations for what has been done. “Women, here is your son,” you say. “Son, here is your mother.”A weak leader has sacrificed you. The crowd that feted you just days earlier has turned upon you and hates you. They fight over who will get your clothes. A guard stabs you with a spear to see if you are dead yet, and you barely feel it. Even God is silent. You are alone. You ask for water and receive viningar. And you feel your life ebb away. “It is finished,” you say. You have done all that you could in the time that you had. And you bow your head, and give up your spirit.
But wait, don’t move on. Today, this is a story that does not end. It is freeze-framed in our hearts and in our minds. To understand Good Friday, to learn what we should from it, we have to live in that place – to be greedy Judas, the cowardly disciples, the weak Pilate, and the hateful mob.
And in this way, we should reflect on the dark shadows inside each one of us – the deeds that align us with Judas and the mob to close for our own comfort. The times when we have been disloyal to our family and closest friends. And we must be Jesus to understand the depth of the sorrow and despair that we caused.
This is not the day of redemption. It is not the day when we dry our tears, and say, well, things could always be worse.
Because things could not be any worse on Good Friday. It is a day of greed, cowardice, shame and betrayal. And it is a day to learn the lesson of the actions. Remember this, when you leave this place and head out into the sunny afternoon.