Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“The full liturgic flow of Holy Week . . . characterizes the execution as a way-station of abandonment that is not an endpoint of abandonment. The requirement is to pause long enough—whether three hours is long enough is unclear—to see that the abandonment is genuine abandonment” —Walter Brueggemann, Into Your Hand: Confronting Good Friday
When I left a conservative, Pentecostal church tradition, I often felt that progressive theological collectivities had difficulty articulating “what we are doing on Good Friday.” We know culturally and religiously what it is all about. We also know that Christians have been historically careless in recalling the story about the crucifixion, letting antisemitic stereotypes and accusations and damaging notions that suffering is always redemptive overwhelm more thoughtful and imaginative reflection on the meaning of crucifixion. I have sensed discomfort in trying to make sense of calling the day that the Roman empire executed Jesus “good” without moving as soon as possible to the victory of resurrection.
The Gospel renderings of the crucifixion are potent witnesses to the relentless force of death. Still, the history of what happened that day is mainly undiscoverable even as it remains hauntingly real and frightening. Unfortunately, some liturgies seemed designed to compensate for that inability to know what happened for sure with an exaggerated, near-pornographic portrayal of the violence of the cross (I have in mind Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ), hoping that it will convince us how enormous a sacrifice was made for our atonement. Among privileged people largely protected from abusive, violent powers, such images often leave us unprepared to recognize and critique within our context damaging “contemporary imperial practice” that crucifies (executes?) all the time, just not on crosses.
On this sad, frightening day known as Good Friday, we face in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion the full wrath of the empire as it wields its death-dealing brutality against all that is good, right, and just. And yet, we also behold Jesus’ refusal to abandon his faithfulness to God and us or accommodate the empire’s insistence on the normalcy of power, vengeance, and violence. Even with our eye fixed on God’s triumph over death in our celebration of Resurrection, we are left to contend with the world’s “taunts, temptations, and revenges” that oppress the vulnerable and impede our gathering into beloved community. And yet, to be faithful, we are called to let today be what it is. Let the abandonment bring us into the full implication of God’s absence. The theologian Walter Brueggemann invites us to participate in a “thick practice” of Good Friday made real in the words of Scripture and liturgy about absence and abandonment. We need not rush to Easter. The claims of Good Friday permit us to see the deep connection between that painful moment of despair and the triumphant vindication of life. Amen.