Some of you perhaps think I’ve pushed the envelope too far by presuming to rename one of the most sacred days in the Christian tradition. And, despite declaring myself Queen of the World (or at least of Sacred Journeys), and renaming Good Friday, The Day of Tears, I still find myself compelled to explain it with the parenthetical “aka Good Friday” (which makes me cringe every time I do it).
(For the full audio version, click here.)
There is little agreement about where the name Good Friday came from, and in fact, in some areas of Europe it is called Sacred or Holy Friday. That, at least, makes a little more sense to me. But the bottom line reason that I felt compelled to change the name was that I objected to the underlying reason most Christians will tell you it was a “good” day.
I think it is safe to say that most Christians will tell you that what makes Good Friday good is that it was the day that Jesus willfully submitted to God’s plan of dying on a cross in order to bear the punishment for the sins of the world, which he took into himself, a sinless man. In this act, human mortality, which was part of Adam and Even’s punishment for eating the fruit, was erased. All people would now be able to experience eternal life with God because justice had been served.
My heart, my soul, and my mind simply cannot find any sense in this theology. The God that Jesus showed to us – a God of compassion, forgiveness and unconditional love – would never demand a violent death as payment for eating a piece of fruit (which was part of a mythological story in the first place) or any other sin for that matter.
Much of this faulty theology comes from reading Paul too literally. Paul gave us our earliest Christian writings, but all that he wrote about Jesus was through the lens of his very rigid and devout Jewish upbringing, customs and traditions.
For example, Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” because Paul metaphorically saw in Jesus the Passover celebration, in Yom Kippur, and in the suffering Servant of Isaiah. And now we can buy little lamb butters and lamb cakes at the grocery store for Easter thanks to Paul!
Passover celebrates the Hebrews’ escape from slavery in Egypt. In that story, to convince the Pharaoh to let the people go, an angel of death visited the city to kill all the first born, but passed over the doors of the Hebrews who had sacrificed a lamb and put lamb’s blood on the doorpost. That lamb, which came to be known as the Paschal lamb, had the power to banish death.
Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonemenet. On that day two perfect, blemishless animals are required for the ceremony. A goat, upon which the people symbolically placed their sins before driving it out into the wilderness (hence we now have the term “scapegoat”). And a lamb, which was sacrificed as an offering of appeasement to God for the sins of the people.
Isaiah 53 was a metaphorical description of Israel as the suffering servant who was taken into exile to bear the sins of the people. Many of the phrases bear a remarkable resemblance to Jesus.
Please remember that Paul and the gospels were written hundreds of years after these traditions were established and Isaiah was written. They fashioned their stories using words, and images that were familiar to them. Paul metaphorically used these images and non-Jews took them literally.
In the gospel of John, which we’ve been studying for the last 6 weeks, there is no doctrine of atonement. And John takes a decidedly different approach to Jesus crucifixion than the other three gospels.
John’s Jesus is completely in control at this point in the story: there is no sorrow, no fear, no anxiety that we sense from Jesus like there is in the other gospels. There is no Last Supper, per se, with the request to “remember me.” There is no going off alone to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane with a plea to take the cup away.
There was no fear in Jesus because, as John understood him, “the world” had no power over him, and could not kill the essence of who he was.
Perhaps for John it was a “good Friday” because John firmly believed that the death of Jesus on the cross was the ultimate revelation of the glory of God. Why? Because Jesus freely gave his life and his love away. Not because God required it, but because he was living in deep integrity to the God of love that he lived in oneness with.
Every year Christians around the world relive the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. And there is power in it. But with it usually comes the self-flagellation of guilt and sinfulness. “Jesus died because of me” most traditional conservative theology wants us to believe.
My Good Friday services have told the story over and over again for 19 years. It was tradition. Last night we didn’t read the story. Instead we read reflections of his life and remembered the man, instead of the way he died.
For John, instead of dying for our sins, Jesus died so that we might achieve an expanded humanity.
Jesus’ life and death were not about salvation from sin and death, but salvation to life… bringing us back to ourselves. Helping us to know that we are much more than we think we are. At our core there is divinity which is brings us into Oneness with our Source, our God, with Love, and with the rest of creation. Our true humanity is life, light, and love… and an abundance of it.
Jesus calls us beyond this world, beyond our egos, beyond the negativity, beyond the fear, beyond the guilt and grief. He calls us to a place of love that ever ends and love that has no limits. Love that accepts each and every one of us because it sees the beautiful soul deep within.
We forget so easily.
Yes, it is a Day of Tears. We’re sad that this world couldn’t see Jesus for the master and teacher that he was. We’re sad that the Jewish and Roman authorities thought it would be better to eliminate the threat of difference and change, instead of embracing the wisdom he had to share. And, perhaps we’re even sadder that the world doesn’t seem to have changed much, and that we let ourselves get too caught up in the world sometimes.
That’s why we have today. That’s why we gather on Sundays. To remind ourselves that there is more, that we are more. To let the eternal Christ presence continue to guide, teach and lead us.