Good Friday means a lot of different things to different people. Historically, it’s the day assigned to commemorate the grisly execution of a troublemaking preacher who was seen as a threat by the religious and civil authorities of his day and whose luck ran out during Passover. They were dead right about him being a threat. They were dead wrong about what they did about it. The most famous death in human history did more to propel his troublemaking ideas worldwide than they could ever have imagined.
To a great many believers, it means a great deal more than even all that. To those who see Jesus of Nazareth as God incarnate, it means an entirely new twist on religious belief and the whole idea of who or what God is. The Greek and Roman mythology of Jesus’ time had plenty of stories about Gods taking human form, doing wonders and miracles (usually destructive) and impregnating countless mortal women with their semi-divine offspring. The Jesus story is different. In the Christian version, the creator willingly chooses to take on the full burden of creaturehood – cold, heat, hunger, thirst, diarrhea, ear infections, hives, pain, fear, frustration and finally, the big one – death itself – and a brutal death at that, at the hands of the very creatures he supposedly came to save from themselves. Breaking his eternal silence, he uses a human tongue (with a human need to swallow between every few words) to preach a message of love, forgiveness and human equality and seals his credibility by forgiving his killers from the cross with his last breath. That’s a lot to take in. Most people, even believers, don’t try too hard. They fall back on the official story “He died for our sins” so as not to have to take in the enormity of the idea. A God who suffers, who chooses to suffer, who chooses to become his creation, is very different from the idea of a disembodied spirit running things from a safe distance.
Whether you believe it or not, the introduction of such a powerful idea into human thought cannot be underestimated. It changes who we are. If the barrier between the source of all things and the things themselves no longer exists, then anything is possible and we are more than our biology. Most official religions have worked hard to suppress this central truth, or to cloud it in fancy imagery that dilutes its punch. The trick, the game if you will, is to treat Jesus as a one time thing, as opposed to a revelation about the actual nature of things. The nature of things is that all living things suffer – humans are no exception – but what we choose to do about it makes all the difference. We can deny our mortality, fight back, enslave each other to feel powerful, pile up wealth as a protective wall – or we can accept our shared situation, band together and do all we can to make our brief lives as fulfilling as possible. This is the central idea behind all the religions that have managed to survive over time, and the central conflict that has faced the human race since we crawled out of the caves.
This is a Good Friday to remember it. Jesus died, but he never left.