Good Friday - When God Dies
Today across the globe there will be millions of Christians celebrating and venerating a crucifix. This image offs designed to create pause in the life of a Christian to reflect on the work of Jesus on the cross. Typically you will see a slender statuette of Christ, arms stretched out and feet bound together with small nails in his hands and feet holding him in place. More expensive versions go into greater detail to depict the agony of Jesus. In these forms he wears a crown of thorns and blood is painted on his hands, feet, side and head to mark the key spots where his blood was poured out. Good Friday is the day we contemplate the death of God himself in the person of Jesus.
What does it look like when God dies? In the gospels we see that it looks incredibly human. God in the person of Jesus became flesh as the second person in the holy trinity. Jesus engaged the world as St. Paul says in Philippians “existing in the form of God but did not consider equality with God as something to exploit”. God became flesh and blood in humility and lived the full human experience. This means that though Jesus is divine he did not advantage himself in this world but instead lived as one of us. What does this mean for humanity? It means that we can eternally say that the human experience is sacred and now divine. Jesus is now eternally like us, a human and now we can be like him by grace which is his nature and that is divine. Humanity and all of our flaws are now justified in the person of God.
While on earth Jesus experienced what it meant to be vulnerable as a child in the care of Mary the mother of God. He experienced the awkwardness of adolescence and what it was like to find your identity. Like us, Jesus felt hunger and he knows what its like to thirst. He attended a wedding and knows what it feels to participate in joy of a blossoming marriage. Jesus knows how it feels to mourn the loss of a friend and attend a funeral. In his humanity, Christ shed tears, told jokes, drank wine, sought out delicious food and even experienced the need to be alone for a little while. We know that Jesus knows what it feels like to be betrayed and misunderstood. We also know that he knows how to forgive and not hold a grudge.
Perhaps the most profound thing God can relate with us through the humanity of Christ is what it looks like to contemplate death. While in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was aware that his friend Judas had betrayed him and was on his way with the temple guards. Death was coming and we see Jesus praying to God the Father asking that he be spared the cross. Some say this scene in the garden is not a human response to the contemplation of death but a theatrical performance by God. Surely, an eternal God cannot be shaken by the finite prospect of death? Is that not the most human response to death? Death especially in the manner Jesus was to die, death on a cross; comes with much suffering and the flesh does everything it can to reject suffering.
In contemplating his death, he was arrested and brought before the Jewish high priest of Israel Caiaphas on charges of blasphemy. Yahweh, the God of Israel and the Jews was standing trial before the high priesthood instituted by him for blasphemy! The poetics of this is incredibly fascinating. At first, nobody would falsely testify against Jesus but, the religious authority pushed and eventually two witnesses falsely accused him of claiming to be God. The high priest demanded that Jesus tell him if he is the Christ, the Son of God to which Jesus said they have called him this. Tearing his clothes he condemned God to death and took him to the Roman authorities to be crucified.
Later that day the Romans found him not guilty and scourged Jesus to satisfy the crowds demanding his death. This was not enough and giving into the pressure of the crowd and the fear of a revolt, Pilot the Governor turned him over to be crucified. Carrying his cross Jesus stumbled towards the hilltop to where he would die. This weight was too much to physically bear and God experienced the weakness of the body and what it looks like to be a human in need of help. Simon was pulled from the crowd witnessing the procession to carry the cross of God. A non-divine human in the person of Simon carried the cross for God to the place of his crucifixion! God’s flesh was too vulnerable to carry the weight of the cross. It’s incredible to think that the divinity of Christ was holding together the very fabric of the universe but, the humanity of Christ was giving way to exhaustion. God now not only understood that the flesh is weak but felt that the flesh is weak and that suffering is the deepest poverty of the human experience. This isn not just suffering but, God experienced what its like to have suffering imposed on him. One of the greatest fears of humanity is to be brutalized by our world and God now knew what it meant to be broken in the most heinous way. He was then crucified and died at the hands of the state and the temple veil was torn doing away with the separation of man and God.
On Good Friday Christians hang in the gravity of the idea that God is dead. We do not rush to the resurrection though we know it’s coming. Instead we sit in the heaviness of what happens when we kill God. Some say God killed God but, knowing that the sacrifice of Christ was made on Maundy Thursday Christians know that humanity killed God. He took the brunt of the sin of this world as a victim and not an abuser. Jesus poured out his blood in the place a Barrabas the criminal at his trial when all he had to do was speak up. God in his love and humility allowed a criminal to live though he was innocent nit for some triumphant self righteousness but because Jesus knows that if he dies then death dies. In our creeds we say the Jesus descended into hell to restore the lowest of places humanity can go. Whether that is a physical posture or a state of being, Jesus made himself lower than all other humans.
Why is this good?
Whether the resurrection comes or not we know that God is not self serving. He humbled himself even in the face of his accusations and fulfilled the laws we cannot keep. He set right what it means to blaspheme God and pardoned the murderer. All the commandments were fulfilled from Gethsemane to Golgotha even down to honoring your mother and father by placing Mary in the care of John. Jesus recapitulated the whole of the law and the prophets and set right the world.
As we contemplate the death of God we should examine our doubts and fears. They are now sacred. If God is dead what kind of people are we? Good Friday is an invitation to examine if we truly operate in love or if we live in fear of the wrath of God. If God is dead do the widow and orphan matter? If God is dead is forgiveness still at the heart of who we are? If God is dead does death still have the final say? Friday is good not because of Sunday but instead because God makes a spectacle of the human condition and shows us there’s a better way.