So, it’s Good Friday, right? What do we say to that?
Well, it’s a bank holiday, for many of us at least, and we get a day off work, a long weekend. It’s part of the holiday season.
Oh, and it commemorates the brutal, blood-soaked execution of a man who has become one of the founding fathers of human civilisation, in our words if not in our deeds. But crucifixion is a vicious thing to celebrate, and maybe it even makes Christianity look sadistic or masochistic. After all, Bill Hicks asked why so many Christians wear crosses – “You’d think that when Jesus comes back that’s the last thing he’s gonna want to see!”
And you can see where he was coming from. Taken on its own terms, a cross isn’t a nice piece of jewellery, it’s a cruel and inhumane way to die, not something to be celebrated, but something to be rejected and burned and consigned to the history books. And, as a present reality, it has been, but as a spiritual reality, well, it’s still there, still standing and potent and visible.
Of course, it’s not as a means of execution we remember it. We remember it because of crucifixion’s most famous…Well, I was going to say ‘victim’ there, but in the light of what’s happened since, I’d say that crucifixion has ultimately become a victim of Jesus Christ rather than vice versa. A vicious way to die has become, somehow, a symbol of grace. How does that happen?!
It’s right there, of course, in the story: “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” In the moment a genuinely guilty thief receives comfort and redemption from the man nailed up next to him. In Jesus making sure someone would be around to look after his mom. In a crown of thorns intended as a mockery but that becomes a more potent and worthy symbol of kingship and power than the laurel wreaths of Caesar, or the Crown Jewels, or Airforce One. It’s the ultimate bait-and-switch – it looks like Jesus is finished, his teachings and miracles rendered worthless by his death, another good man steamrollered by an uncaring world. Instead, and suddenly, it’s revealed to be God’s self-sacrifice, the master-plan, the cosmic victory over evil that looked like a defeat to any watching right up until the following Sunday morning. Jesus dying for the world, but we should never forget that he lived for the world too, never focus on his death to the total exclusion of his life, but rather see death and resurrection as affirmation of all that he did in life.
Grace. Grace growing out of love. The only force strong enough to turn macabre instruments of death into a resonant symbol of life, love and spirituality. And it’s that love, that grace that prompts me to wonder what the hell went wrong with his followers, of which I count myself one in all my weaknesses and screw-ups and misunderstandings and rejections. As an individual, I’ve not been the person I should be, and that’s covered over by grace and love, but it still needs to be acknowledged. And, perhaps as, if not more, urgently, there needs to be an acknowledgement, right here and right now, that the church that claims the name of Christ, across the world and throughout history, has had some pretty major screw-ups in its time that has sent people weeping to their deaths and running from any mention of Christ.
And for that I’m sorry.
I’m sorry on behalf of the Church of which I’m a part, if they happened today or a thousand years ago. Some I wasn’t around for, but constantly making that distinction somehow seems a bit shabby, so see this as a collective thing. And for any and all of the below I’ve personally been a part of, I ask your forgiveness and I pledge to try and do something about them.
I’m sorry for the Crusades, the Inquisition, the religious voices who gave support, overt or tacit, to Jim Crow, colonialist violations of human rights, and each and every Holocaust.
I’m sorry for the bombed abortion clinics, the mistreatment of women, the idea that spirituality can be easy and that miracles can be bought, for the curses rained down on ‘the Others’ and for the ‘God hates fags’ signs.
I’m sorry for the times we’ve rushed in to condemn films or books or music without being fully aware of their contents, giving ourselves up to soundbite activism and uninformed screaming.
I’m sorry that we’ve often acted as if things like the Sermon on the Mount only apply to other people.
I’m sorry we’ve bought into a way of living that condemns children to starvation and the spreading of disease, of ignorance, of poverty, of cynicism. I’m sorry for the statistic that, in the US at least, only 3% of evangelicals say they intend to help with, or even give money to support, international AIDS relief.
I’m sorry that we’re too often rich while others are poor, that we’re too often powerful while others are weak.
I’m sorry that My Name Is Earl is often a better example of grace than Christians are.
I’m sorry we’ve bought into militarism, consumerism, racism, anti-environmentalism and any other negative ‘ism’ that may apply.
I’m sorry that, many times, we’ve failed to adequately engage with the arts, and that at other times we’ve failed to adequately engage with the sciences, and thus I’m sorry for the resulting poverty of our understanding of both God and our world.
I’m sorry we’ve squandered our gifts – money, talents, time, property, whatever. It might have been nice to share them with other people.
I’m sorry for the child abuse scandals.
I’m sorry for the hypocrisy.
I’m sorry for the legalism.
I’m sorry for the insensitive ‘evangelism’, but I’m also sorry for the times that genuine questions crying out for an answer were ignored, as well as for the times we tried to give answers when realistically they were the last things that were needed.
I’m sorry we made Jesus boring, or irrelevant, or a corrupted figurehead, and for when we made him inoffensive to those who needed to find him offensive, when we made him offensive to those who needed to know his love, forgiveness and grace.
I’m sorry we made Jesus a part of our agenda rather than giving ourselves up to being a part of his agenda.
I’m sorry for the times we’ve been silent and invisible when we needed to be radically present, and I’m sorry for the times we’ve been noise pollution when we should have been standing in tearful silence.
I’m sorry I feel the need to write this, and I’m sorry that it’s come to the point where I feel you need to read it.
I’m sorry that in restaurants and coffee shops across our lands, Christians are considered to be bad tippers.
For this and all the other things, I apologise, cheap as that may come across.
It’s 14 April 2006. On this Good Friday, I’m sorry.