Friday, April 2, 2010

Morbidity and Good Friday

After my post about dwelling in the story of Easter this will make more sense.

It is my experience that most Christians either accidentally or intentionally skip or diminish Good Friday.

It is skipped by all those who simply don't observe it in any fashion. They go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter, greatly diminishing the entire story. Imagine if Star Wars leapt straight from rescuing Leia to the Award Ceremony after the destruction of the Death Star. Yeah, boring.

It is diminished by those who blend Good Friday into Easter or simply bring too much cheer into what is really quite a black day. Some pastors do this because they worry about getting maudlin or morbid and so they are quick to remind everyone that all the bad stuff which happens today is resolved in Resurrection.

I think it is important, on Good Friday, that we dwell on the crucifixion for the reasons I've stated, but this leaves me open to the charge of morbidity. I don't think it's a petty charge at all. My sister stays away from the church primarily because she finds it morbid. I myself find certain approaches to handling the crucifixion off-putting because they seem to do more than merely acknowledge the gruesome situation - they almost fetishize it. Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ is an example of Christian torture-porn which I do not approve of.

It is a delicate balance in my estimation. I want to maintain an unflinching focus on the horror of crucifixion, highlight and even dramatize the human sin, the destructive violence, and the carnal reality of God in flesh dying on a cross. Somehow this gaze has to retain its original naivete and not become too desensitized, nor sensationalized.

Let no one ever come away from one of my sermons imagining that I approve of the violence even in the dim recesses of my subconscious. It is not aesthetically beautiful. It is hideous. And not hideous in a tragic way which nearly becomes beautiful. It isn't hideous in an exotic and interesting way, either. It is mundane brutality if there can be such a thing. Banal, bloody, and basic. Christ on the cross isn't an icon of transcendent suffering. He is exactly like the two thieves beside him - a hunk of meat skewered and left to bleed out.

It is the perfectly ordinary and base way that he dies which makes the christian claim that the cross is the pivot on which the history of the world turns so remarkable. If Jesus died by having his head torn off by a Golden Eagle while his entrails were removed with golden hooks in the hands of blind albino eunuchs you could see why it would cause a stir. As it is, he died a petty bandit, in the company of petty bandits, via ordinary state execution methods. Who remembers the last person to get a lethal injection in their state? Will you remember in a year? In 2000 years?

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