On Good Friday, I left a status update out there that said “rethinking Good Friday”, with a quote from Acts 15. As the [holy] week has crescendo-ed into the passion weekend, I’ve seen more and more status updates about everything from Passover to Good Friday, and now as we’ve officially crossed over into resurrection Sunday, the resurrection. I find the entirety of the passion to be entirely profound; the cross (and, more importantly, the empty tomb) are symbols and realities that literally changed everything we thought we understood about our metaphysical framework. And it it because of its raw power that I find myself wholly irritated by the status updates. And I’m willing to admit that I’m being a curmudgeon about it all, but hear me out.
First, Jesus did not die for you. That’ll rub some people the wrong way, but if we’re taking Paul (a second-hand, after-the-fact witness) as the authority on the matter, then we’re missing the point. Jesus dying for us is, plainly, miscontextualizing the matter. A crucified Jewish peasant passed off as a incendiary zealot means nothing for us. They were a dime a dozen in antiquity, and they all came and went as often as clouds and corrupt politicians. What is it that John (John who, if he did actually write the eponymous gospel, was there firsthand for it all) encourages us to do with his story at the conclusion of it? Paraphrased, but sticking to the truth of the text, it is an exhortation to believe and find life in his authority. A Jewish zealot has no authority, even one who performed miracles and amazed crowds regardless of their standing on the social spectrum. The guy was betrayed, framed as a revolutionary and criminal, and executed with cold and ruthless Roman efficiency. If you want to celebrate that, fine. Just understand that you do so, wittingly or otherwise, for the reasons the religious leaders did: to get what you want out of the deal.
Jesus went into Jerusalem not knowing what to expect. God-man, for all of his God-ness, did not know if he was going to be accepted or rejected, much less crucified. And, when faced with the anxieties of a man anticipating death, God-man looked a lot like man. I’ve argued elsewhere that it was necessary for God to become man because, for all that God knows, he could not fully understand the human condition until he became a part of it, hence, Jesus was an absolutely necessary development. Jesus did the best he could, but don’t think for a moment that, in the garden, the sweating drops of blood was for an amusing literary flourish; these are signs of a man not knowing what is to come. How does the human manifestation of a being who only knows being because that being is being itself deal with the absence of being? Like anybody else. This is a huge, but forgotten part of the power of the gospel; Jesus’ humanity. When his humanity is taken from him wrongfully, what do you expect?
Remember the garden: to disobey God is to begin to die. The wages of sin stuff is not exclusive to Romans or Paul, this is axiomatic going back to the beginning. So what happens when God dies? Or a man who never earned a death paycheck?
We believe in the saving power of the gospel not because of Jesus’ death, but because his resurrection has (and rightfully ought to have) serious ramifications on the way we do things. Too often, it seems that we like to relish the fact that someone died so that we don’t have to, instead of staring at the empty tomb and realizing that they way we conduct day-to-day business doesn’t line up with the resurrected Christ. We like being saved, but ignore or hate living as though these things actually happened.
This is why I get frustrated with all the status updates: if you need a reminder about the thing that is of your ultimate concern, and your ultimate concern is in what you get out of the passion deal, that trivializes Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. The resurrection is not about what Jesus did for us, it is about God’s ultimate victory over his enemies, and the expiration of the old order. We are not to be a people governed by the crucifixion, but the resurrection precisely because the resurrection shows us how ridiculous it is to be beholden to institutions and systems of control that are well-intended but futile in terms of efficacy.
The Jewish Messiah died at the hands of the Romans, was buried in a Jewish tomb and guarded by Roman soldiers. The resurrection tells us that it is for everyone while making everything else irrelevant, even the crucifixion, defying even cause and effect. Jesus Christ, the living and victorious God-man, is a subject without a clause, whose resurrection invites us to become subjects without clauses, in so doing deliberately choosing to be reconciled to full relationship with God. And yet here we are, Christians in the West, incapable of transcending the clauses of Christian culture, still living as though we are, like those referred to in Acts 15, to take on the yoke of tradition, forgetting that no one could hack it. Not to pick on anyone, but what exactly is the point of celebrating Passover, 21st century Evangelical Christians? We are so bound to the constructs that we forget that the work of Christ and the mandate for those who hold faith in the authority of Christ is fundamentally supracultural and is as such ill-suited for our programmatic tendencies. So we pick and choose, thankful for what God has done for us and still unable to share that dynamic reality without resorting to our clauses.
The rest of the world isn’t stupid. They’re wise to our game. And yet we won’t stop playing by our defined rules! The same rules that keep many from ever seeing a legitimate representation of the resurrected Christ, the same rules that demanded the life of an innocent man. History is repeating itself, and yet we’d rather complain about the current state of affairs and hide in 24-7 prayer bomb shelters than face the simple fact that history repeats for those who forget, i.e., us. We may as well the conspirators of John 11 than the people of post-ascension Acts.
Other people matter more than we do. While churches all over America will be full of people who feel obligated to do their twice-a-year duty and those who are overly excited to feel good about themselves and their salvation and those relatively few who are sincere, there are lots of people who won’t set foot anywhere near a community of faith, or a church building. All the cantatas and bait-and-switch in the world won’t get everyone, much less those who need it most. Now more than ever, we need a restored vision of the resurrected Christ, unencumbered by our crappy contexts and exercises in futility. People don’t need church, and they certainly don’t need musicals. They need to see that subjects don’t need clauses, they need to see a people dominated by nothing more or less than the resurrection.
This is why I’m rethinking Good Friday. My salvation means nothing if it does not translate into the language of those who need it most, that is, those who refuse to come to us on our terms. In the case where I have to choose between being a Christian or being Christ to those who need it, even at the cost of not appearing Christian-like, I’ll take the latter every time.
Though this is largely heavy-handed and cynical, it is Resurrection Sunday. But it’s also a day. People will be born today, people will die. And there is still much work to be done, in house and out.