The opening lines to Patti Smith’s song “Gloria”:
Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine
Meltin' in a pot of thieves
Wild card up my sleeve
Thick heart of stone
My sins my own
They belong to me, me
Not everyone wants to be redeemed; certainly not at the price of someone else’s life.
Elizabeth Spires, Good Friday, Driving Westward:
The rain. Rain that will not end.
The daily errands. Daily bread.
No letting up. No pause
as I steer blindly, circling
the great city.
Why is it that all of Christendom doesn’t simply come to halt today? Why do the wheels of commerce (and entertainment) turn on this day as if it’s business as usual?
If the Christian story is taken to be true, then today—Good Friday—commemorates the single worst day in the entire history of the human race: worse even than the day not long after Creation when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate of the forbidden fruit.
It’s a mark of Christianity’s genius for paradox that Christians have come to refer to Adam and Eve’s disobedience as felix culpa (“blessed fall”) and to call the day on which God was killed “Good Friday”. Given that, it’s no surprise that Tertullian, one of the greatest of early Christian theologians, declared “The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed--because it is shameful.
The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is silly. He was buried, and rose again: it is certain--because it is impossible.” That last statement has gotten the most attention, but the entire litany is a testament to Christianity’s willingness, from the beginning, to defy and even openly mock “the wisdom of the world”.
In any case, it’s one thing to disobey God; it’s another thing entirely, and a crime of a whole other magnitude, to murder God.
Some lines from Anne Sexton’s “Jesus Dies”:
“From up here in the crow’s nest / I see a small crowd gather. / Why do you gather, my townsmen? / There is no news here. / I am not a trapeze artist. / I am busy with My dying.”
Today, on Good Friday, Jesus is busy with his dying. Shouldn’t we leave him in peace?
“My townsmen,” the poem concludes, “go home now. / I will do nothing extraordinary. / I will not divide in two. / I will not pick out My white eyes. / Go now, / this is a personal matter, / a private affair and God knows / none of your business.”
Jesus himself wants this day to be, for the rest of us, business as usual—is that possible?
Better than anyone, Friedrich Nietzsche captured both the meaning and the import of Good Friday, albeit about eighteen hundred years later and albeit he did not believe the Christian story:
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!" As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.
"Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."
Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."
It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: "what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?"
This is from Ann Wroe’s PONTIUS PILATE:
“Three gospels record the ‘darkness over the face of the earth’. Matthew adds that an earthquake followed. These occurrences may have been symbolic, nature in upheaval at the death of God, but they may also have happened in fact. An eclipse on the likeliest Friday in 33 was recorded in several Mediterranean countries. The second-century Gospel of Peter said that people went about with lamps, thinking it was night. Lamps may have been lit, too, in the tall braziers around Pilate’s palace, while the air outside turned thick as smoke.
“Intelligent men were not afraid of eclipses… [They knew] that this was no miracle, but something that happened at fixed times and would continue to do in the future. All it meant was that the moon was passing between the earth and the sun. Earthquakes, too, had a rational explanation, trapped winds bursting out of the earth…Yet Romulus had died during an eclipse of the sun, as had Caesar, and similar disturbances had attended the death of Augustus in 14: a total eclipse, then the sky on fire, glowing embers that fell in showers, blood-red comets.
“It passed after a while. The day began to lighten without explanation, fallen objects were picked up from the floor, and Pilate returned to whatever his business was…”
Ann Wroe sums up Good Friday, from Pilate’s perspective: “Six hours, three more troublemakers on crosses. Another productive day in Judea.” +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Speaking of summing up, here is an explanation, in two sentences, of the last 2000 years of history:
Did you think you could crucify your God and get away with it? Did you really think there would be no consequences?