Good Friday 2007

Good Friday comes round once again, and floating around the media and churches is the question of how to respond to it again, a commemoration that’s been going on for two thousand years. Is there anything new to say? Should there be something new, does the quest for novelty divorce the whole thing from its roots – the crucifixion of Christ, the paradox of the name Good Friday, the paradox of the theology – death from life, victory through the physical defeat, a single thirtysomething being the resonating figure of the story while the kings and conquerors are now mainly remembered for being supporting characters in the story of Jesus.

Of course, one of the major aspects of Good Friday is the imagery – a man on a cross, arms outstretched, brutalised, surrounded by his family and his executors. It’s a powerful image, one that’s co-opted every time someone needs visual shorthand for the suffering of a messianic figure or an innocent victim. Watch Superman Returns, it’s all there in how Brian Singer directs his hero figure. It’s part of a tradition. Look at the statue ‘Ecce Homme’, an image of Christ condemned for appearing weak, but one that (if I’m remembering my years-old obscure newspaper stories correctly) inspired loyalty and love among the local tramps; look at ‘Cross We Bear‘, a sculpture positioning Stephen Lawrence as the victim, innocence broken by a brutal society. Even The Passion of the Christ owed as much to artistic imagery and the archetype of the undeserving victim as it did to the Easter story as a whole (the resurrection lasting a matter of seconds).

Heck, even we do it. We talk of people being crucified in the media. And, when I turned thirty, I had the weird realisation that Jesus was only that age when he started his public ministry. Talk about raising the bar…And yes, that’s total arrogance and hubris – comparing yourself to Christ? Come on! But…

But the Crucifixion becomes an icon, the dying Jesus becoming a cipher onto which we can project our own hopes and fears and persecutions and politics. I’m not sure how I feel about that. There’s a value to it, sure, showing Christ’s identification with both humanity and with the suffering and persecuted, and I’m down with that, but…

But reducing Jesus to a simple image is making things too easy, like asking a jeweller for a crucifix with a little man on it, just because it looks better. Christ’s death is a major moment in the history of the world, but if we divorce it from his life, we lose a lot of its impact, for if Christ died for us, then it’s also true to say he lived for us as well. The theology of Good Friday can’t be separated from that of Easter, from that of the preceding thirty-three years.

So Good Friday comes around again, and maybe it’s time to broaden the celebration, seeing the crucifixion as the fulcrum of a mission that started years before and ended, in a physical sense at least, a couple of days later. Context is everything. In this commemoration of a death, don’t forget the life.

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