Easter was never anything more than a time of baskets, candy, egg hunts, and a chance for my little sister to buy a new, bright colored dress to a Sunday service no different than any other. Why was Easter so special? Or, more to the point, why was Easter not so special?
Well, if we weren’t explicitly (or implicitly, depending on how one interpreted implicit) commanded in the Bible to do it, we didn’t…at least not anything directed toward God, such as worship, observances, etc. Easter? What’s Easter? It’s a pagan holiday the Catholic church incorporated, Christianized, and left us, all wrapped up in a pretty, pink, pastel bow. It’s not in my Bible, there’s no example for me to follow that I should celebrate Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as a holiday once a year—that’s what the Lord’s Supper is about, and we take that every Sunday!—and what’s a fertility goddess, bunnies, and chocolate have to do with Jesus?! Well, nothing, I tell you! And that’s why I won’t celebrate it! Except that I do like chocolate…and bunnies…I like watching kids hunt eggs—okay, I like to do it, too!—and it’s hard to pass up my annual box of “Peeps” (did you know they’re made in Bethlehem, PA?? how ironic…and cool!)…I just won’t do any of those things in conjunction with anything that has to do with God! Right. I’ll just separate my life with God and my life apart from God, and all will be well. Right. Right? Hmm…
Last night I went to my first “Good Friday” service. Easter’s kind of a big deal to a lot of people here in NEPA, at least among my new circle of friends, my wife included, so I decided to see why it is so. Jesus gave his life for us. Well, okay, that’s a pretty big deal, but I need more. I’m thankful for that every day; why should set aside a day that isn’t even the day to stop and think about it? Jesus gave his life for us. Oh… That’s it? Jesus gave his life for us. Oh! That is it!
There’s something intriguing about experience. Remembering and memorializing are one things; experiencing is something different altogether. When Jesus said, “in remembrance of me,” he was not using our notion of the word remembrance. Jesus was a Jew, and the Jewish understanding of this word is that of re-experiencing something; in the case of Passover, they were re-experiencing the Exodus. This is not a mere recollection of information, it’s not closing one’s eyes, and picturing a cross. It’s experiencing a life of rejection and betrayal, a prayer in a garden, a friend kissing you to your death, listening to others bearing false witness against you, having the governing authorities proclaim your innocence and yet still flog you and sentence you to death, all while releasing a known murderer in your place, all because your people—your family—wanted you dead, and then enduring that death by being nailed to a cross, to be mocked, spat upon, and publicly humiliated in front of your mother; and then, after having done no wrong, having your Father, from whom you’ve never been separated, turn his back on you, even if only for a moment. Did you feel that?
Some people remember, and some experience. I imagine many, perhaps most, people who “celebrate” Good Friday and Easter will remember Jesus, his death, burial, and resurrection. I imagine fewer will experience it, albeit in their own way.
I can’t peer into the hearts of men and women, and I’m not sure why everyone came to the service I attended, but I like to think that, at least for some of them, they were there to experience Christ; to have a day—not just a moment within a minute of an hour of an evening of a day—where they remember and re-experience the events leading up to and including Christ’s death; and as they lament and mourn, they look forward to Sunday—Easter—to re-experience Christ’s resurrection with the hope and anticipation that Christ’s disciples, in their doubt and misunderstandings, did not have in knowing that their Lord, Master, and Savior is going (has!) rise(n) again!
So, tell me again why celebrating Good Friday is a bad thing? Hold that thought…
There were candles. *gasp!* And they were lit! Up front! On the communion table! What?! The Lord’s Supper outside of Sunday?? Wait…Candles? Yes, we participated in the Lord’s Supper at a time that seems most fitting for the communal proclamation, remembrance, and re-experiencing of our Lord’s sacrifice. And I like candles. A lot. They helped add to the somberness of our time together, and upon brief reflection amounted to no more than specifically calibrated lighting in services in which I had participated much of my life. And you know what? If there had been incense—there wasn’t—that helped place me in a moment of Christ’s suffering and better engage me in that time with God, I would have been okay with that, too. It wouldn’t be any different to me than having cushioned pews, freshly shampooed carpet, or anything else we use to “comfort” ourselves or enable us to better “focus” in our time with God in any other service at any other time.
There wasn’t anything about last night’s message—a focus on the pain of Christ’s separation from the Father—or the songs we sang—although I am quite fond of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Oh, Sacred Head”—that prompted these words of mine. It was a reflection on the meaning of things, why we do what we do, and why we allow semantics, dogma, and tradition to get in the way of fellowship, worship, and loving our neighbor, especially fellow believers in Christ!
So, I ask again: why is celebrating Good Friday a bad thing?
Surely, if ever there was ever a time to say it in all sincerity, now is that time: “Thank God It’s Friday.”
I suppose on Sunday I’ll be asking the same thing about Easter; and I imagine the word Easter will forever call to my mind images of pink, fuzzy bunnies and chocolate eggs, but maybe not. After today I imagine Good Friday will call to mind things other than Catholic crosses and fish sandwiches, so, perhaps, I can overcome the Pavlovian bunnies and eggs. And what about Christmas!! Okay, I have nine more months to figure that one out…