Friday, March 29, 2013
Good Riddance to Good Friday
Today, I am uncomfortable with the term "Good Friday."
"Good Friday" has varied etymological accounts. Since I'm not a philologist, I can't argue for or against any of these explanations. Besides, what a word or phrase meant doesn't change what it means today.
Not based on any serious study, but rather on my experiences and a brief perusal of the internet, today, the "good" of "Good Friday" mostly connotes how good it is that God sent "his" to pay the wages of sin: death. Let's also note that according to this line of reason, God set these wages and apparently never decided to give a increase or decrease to the wages. However, God accepts substitutes: animals and Jesus.
I won't get into the intricacies of sacrifices in Ancient Near Eastern culture or biblical references to further elucidate sacrificial, substitutionary atonement. Even at the surface level just described, I am uncomfortable with calling this Friday good. God can change the wages for sin as much as God can set them. Accepting a substitution is a change. Accepting a human instead of an animal is a change. So why the death of man? Why death at all? Human history shows that lessons cannot be taught without death, and death seems like a mighty high price for stealing a piece of gum, cheating on your taxes, punching someone, or eating or drinking to excess.
Even if I could accept calling the death good, why the suffering? Before Jesus, sacrificial animals weren't tortured; they were just killed. Jesus could have had his throat slit instead of being beaten, humiliated, and nailed to a cross. For that matter, Jesus could have died of old age, a heart attack, or some other "natural cause." If a spiritual existence and physical resurrection eons after death is the symbol Christians desire, resurrection could have followed any of those deaths, just like Lazarus's. For that matter, Jesus could have skipped death and ascended into heaven like Elijah, telling his followers, "You may die on this earth, but you'll ascend ages later, like my beloved Lazarus."
Many Christians look at Good Friday and Easter as the only solution to our sins. But if God is a creative God not bound by rules, then there certainly were and, possibly--likely--are other options that God could have made good. To call the cross the only option is tantamount to saying the cross makes this Friday good or saying Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is a poem about taking "the road less traveled by"--it is giving significance and acting as if the meaning were there all along, as if it were there intentionally.
According to the common interpretation of Good Friday, God chose a terrible option, not a good one. I can be thankful for Easter as a historical reality or as a powerful symbol without calling Friday good in this manner. And so I say, "good riddance" to Good Friday or, at least, the term as commonly understood today. (Again when I say "commonly understood," I am making a huge leap in judgment from my experience to most English speakers' experiences.)
Instead, I echo the words of Meister Eckhart today: "I pray God to rid me of God." How apropos of this Friday, also known as Holy Friday, Black Friday, Long Friday, and, appropriately in the German, Karfreitag, which means Sorrowful or Suffering Friday (credit for these finding these other names goes to about.com and Wikipedia). We remember--not celebrate--the death of a man so holy that he was called the son of God, Christ, and even God. In a sense, today is a day we remember not only God dying, but a way of understanding God dying. We remember disciples who could not understand Jesus being crucified so much so that they were embarrassed and denied Jesus when he was dying and dead. Today of all days is an apt day to sacrifice our understandings of God for and to whatever and/or whoever God really is. For me, today, this Friday is for remembering Jesus' death and waiting for the reality behind that word.
I wish you blessings of significance this Friday, a time of soul searching tomorrow on Holy Saturday, and a time of rebirth and newness this Easter Sunday. I can only hope that freedom will accompany that newness, a freedom in light of the oppression the Hebrews suffered and escaped in Egypt and a freedom from oppression that so many need today.