Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday: Empire and Modern Stations of the Cross

Today, much of Christendom will celebrate Good Friday, the day that remembers the Crucifixion of Christ. This is the day that no bread can be consecrated. Many Christians will fast today. Some will fast until Easter morning.

When I was a child, Good Friday was my favorite service.  The Lutheran church of my childhood didn't offer much variety in terms of what happened from Sunday to Sunday.  In retrospect, it may be that my childhood self had a different sense of time.

Good Friday offered a sharp difference to what we usually did in church:  lights dimming to darkness, the book closing with a big bang.  I always deliberated whether I loved Christmas Eve best or Good Friday.

Now I see Good Friday as highly problematic.  Unlike many Christians, I don't believe that Jesus had to die for my sins so I could get into heaven.  I don't believe in substitutionary atonement.  I've done some research, and I know that idea is much newer to Christianity than many of us know.  I know that the ancient world would have caught the subtle ways that the original Christian church was trying to undercut the priests and organized religion of the day by suggesting that we didn't need those methods of redemption.

Frankly, I don't understand how anyone could worship a God who would demand that horrific blood sacrifice of crucifixion before loving us.  Moreover, it doesn't square with many of the presentations of God in our scriptures.

But I do know how hard it is to get away from that idea.  Many people are not trained to think critically, and even if they are, there are many topics that feel too scary to apply those critical thinking skills.  I understand that, but I'm still flabbergasted that this idea of Jesus dying for my inability to live a sin-free life has such a powerful hold on us.

So then why did Jesus die?  He was crucified, which was not the way that most people were put to death in the Roman empire.  Ordinary criminals were stoned.  People who posed a threat to the state were crucified--a very public execution that served as a warning and a deterrent.

I'm also uncomfortable with how Good Friday has been used as a reason to oppress/slaughter Jews.  Many Good Friday services have not gotten all the anti-Semitic aspects out of the liturgy.  It's problematic.

Good Friday does give us a great opportunity to think about our systems of empire and how they are still a threat to those who are lower in the power hierarchy of our social structures.  My church bought prints of the Jesus at the Border stations of the cross series by the artist Mary Button, and they now hang around the sanctuary.  My Lenten journaling group spent time with the installation on Wednesday night.  It was a powerful experience.

The artist has used this stations of the cross approach to several social justice issues, like climate change and mass incarceration.  It's an interesting way to move away from the traditional ways that Good Friday is so problematic.

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