How do I judge the value of a religious observance? The only way it makes sense to me is if the holiday has relevance to my life, my living, and provide inspiration for me to improve myself and make a difference in my world. If not, it’s a relic of the past and doesn’t have any wisdom to share.
Good Friday is one of those days that, traditionally interpreted, can be challenging to find relevance. In so many traditional settings, the story of Jesus’ death is read and re-enacted with melodrama and sadness, the purpose being to “experience” the death of the ‘son of god’, the snuffing out of the light of goodness in wait for its triumphant return on Easter. Those sad and melancholic observances are the result of centuries of theological gymnastics that the christian church has done to layer this story with liturgical meaning, turning the execution of the movement’s leader into an opportunity to emphasize and “bring glory” to a god who’s “in charge”, controlling even the destinies of our life and death.
I’m not interested in any of that. How does the emphasis of seeing this as a prophesied ‘sacrifice’ inspire me right here in the present? This story, if it’s going to be at all helpful to the spiritual life, needs to be about the life, the attitude, the actions that led to a corrupt system being threatened enough to need to silence it. I have to read this story with the eyes of an activist. The stories of Jesus give us an archetype, an example of how to live in such a way as to never accept exploitation, injustice and the corrupt systems that we encounter – politically, religiously, and socially. He staged a protest parade that mocked the Roman Empire and the overt displays of power, he initiated a movement that saw the fringes of society treated as equals, doing it all with a commitment to non-violence, building power from among rather than holding power over anyone. This Friday story of execution lays out how living in this way has consequences to those who benefit from the status-quo and unjust systems of our world.
There’s no purpose to experiencing sadness on Good Friday. I’d much rather encourage us to feel anger. Anger that corrupt systems still exist. Anger that there are still people who are pushed aside and marginalized. Anger that any number of powerful people make warring decisions that impact and end the lives of thousands. The story of this Friday inspires us to do something with that anger: to let it inspire ideas and action that can make a difference. Whether in large ways or small, let’s let this life and death inspire our activism, inspire our living, and inspire us to stand up for any and all who need it.