Every Day is Good Friday
Sometimes tombs are about how we treat things in our life… There’s a big stone covering that thing I used to feel or I used to love or I used to be and anyway, it’s started to smell of rot. That part of me is totally dead, period… But as great African American preachers often say,“where we put a period, God puts a comma.” Having a God of resurrection means that the story is seldom over when we think it is.
– Nadia Bolz-Weber
Note: this post was co-written by myself and my husband, Ben.
Here we are in Holy Week. We’ve trudged through the slow devotion of Lent, hopefully prepared for the darkness of Holy Week. I grew up in the kind of church that didn’t hold Good Friday services. My first Good Friday services are a fond memory; they were at my neighbour’s Mennonite church in Kitchener, Ontario. I remember them being solemn and something of an interactive stations of the cross, in which we would progress together to act out Jesus’s day of his death. The first time I tried to go to one on my own, I was 18. I biked to a nearby United Church. It was a harsh Canadian winter so my bike lock had frozen and it wouldn’t open with my key. (I didn’t yet know the trick of holding a lighter to the keyhole to melt the ice inside). I watched people enter the church and cried. Feeling alone, I just biked home. I’m thankful I tried again, and embraced the services and tradition that were foreign to me: Holy Week. The last few days before Easter, the church tells the story of Jesus’s final days, specifically remembering his institution of the Christian practice of Communion (or Eucharist), his betrayal, and his death.
My first Good Friday in Philadelphia, I attended an interfaith service organized by Heeding God’s Call, a local organization dedicated to ending gun violence and decreasing illegal handgun purchases and trafficking. As we remembered the suffering and violence that Jesus experienced, we also mourned and honoured the lives forever changed and lost to suffering and violence caused by handguns. At the end of the service, we all held up a small cross with the name and age of a person who died by gun violence. (In 2013, 201 people were murdered by gunshot in Philadelphia.)
It is with this in mind I approach Holy Week. With the suffering and death of Jesus, and the suffering and death of our neighbours.
Remember my story about being upset that I couldn’t drink margaritas because my friend and neighbour was urinating in his pants?
One week before Maundy Thursday, that same man was tackled to the ground by police officers. I suppose they believed homeless veterans with schizophrenia pose a threat to public safety, especially when they’re black. They stole all his necklaces and locked him in a cell.
The Monday before last at the church’s daily Morning Prayer my husband Ben read the passage where Jesus heals a man born blind and some people who think they have their shit together complain about it and try to figure out whose sin made him blind. He asked if anyone had any thoughts about the Gospel reading for the day.
“Some people didn’t like that God will help anybody. They thought he should just help some people but not others. They didn’t like that God will help anybody,” said one woman.
“Even if it means breaking the rules,” added another woman.
Imagine a political system that would help anybody no matter what, even if it meant breaking the rules. That would be nothing like anything that exists.
Months ago, my husband and I each took an hour and a half long bus ride each way to sit in a little office at the police headquarters. Ben had made a complaint about a white police officer brandishing his gun in a threatening manner at young black men that were already in handcuffs. I was a witness as it happened right outside our door. The guy taking Ben’s statement said, “Hey, you know this takes a lot of time and money right? I’ve gotta talk to all six of the other officers that were there when you say this happened, and I gotta track down the guys they arrested. You know one of them robbed a bank, right?” He stared at Ben and waited for him to change his mind. Months later we got a letter saying his claim was Not Sustained, meaning a half dozen police officers lied.
With experiences like this, it makes it easy to say: every day is Good Friday. Every day is Holy Saturday. Jesus is dead and wrapped up and desperately in need of some perfumes to cover the stench. The powers say that the God who triumphs in weakness is dead.
I know the whole story though. I know that this is not how it all ends. The oppression machine loses. The story of Jesus’s resurrection is an act of defiance. To all that kills, God says, “I will make life.” Through his death and resurrection, Jesus makes fun of this whole system. To the system he says, you think you’re so tough with your death penalty, your maximum security prisons, your handcuffs, courts, swords, tasers, guns, grenades, and atom bombs? The God who makes life will undo their death tools.
The man that the police kidnapped and locked up in a little cage was supposed to be baptized this Easter. We were supposed to gather together to say he belongs to the family of God. The world’s powers think they can say he belongs to them. But the power of resurrection defeated state power before and it will do it again. He is God’s, not is not the property of a system of mass incarceration. That’s God’s promise to us.
Naomi Wildflower is a coffee snob, an urban cyclist, and an Episcopalian. While once a Torontonian, she currently lives in the beautiful neighbourhood of Kensington in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
We’d like to hear from you. Send your questions, comments, and feedback about Lent for Skeptics to lentforskeptics [at] geezmagazine [dot] org