More and more shops are open on Good Friday, in an effort to offer services for folks of other religions and for those who are secular…and even for Christians. Let me tell ya, it is much better to go to the grocery store to get all the things for a nice dinner than it is to have the shops shut out of respect for Jesus and his followers. I get it. Really, I do. Because no one wants to talk about what really happens on Good Friday. And so, we are slowly starting to see the death of Good Friday.
I think people avoid Holy Week for a number of reasons. First, we haven’t figured out for ourselves who Jesus is. (Most people, sadly, garner their opinions about Christians from bad experiences with a Christian, or, what people have seen in the media). This is compounded with, why did Jesus die? Followed by “I haven’t seen one body resurrect and there has been no scientific proof of this, so why would I celebrate something that is not physically possible sourced from an outdated book of stories?”
I get it. I struggle with it, too. It is part of my faith journey. I used to be in the “Jesus is a great moral teacher and just as divine as the rest of the world’s great teachers” camp, moved to the “Jesus is fully human and fully divine, part of the Trinity” and now in the ” I am going to let Jesus show me who he is rather than me telling Jesus who I want him to be” chapter of my life.
But that is only part of it. I am heading straight to the heart of why people may struggle with faith, Easter, Jesus, God and more.
It is death.
Crossing over Jordan, joined the choir divine, passed on, finally at peace, resting eternally, depart this life, sent to glory. They are all cultural euphemisms to explain the one thing every human has in common: death. And death, dead and dying are all words we try to avoid in every day conversations so as to not upset someone to protect their feelings and causing more hurt. This is all done in love, but it is robbing our world of so much.
Our death practices in Western society have sanitized death to such an extent that it has robbed our society of dealing with death. I remember a church I served, put a fake human skull on the Communion Table during Lent to remind us of our mortality. People often did not come to church until Easter because the skull made people uncomfortable with death- yet, we are obsessed with death. Just look at some popular television shows that detail gruesome deaths for proof. A lot of television shows revolve around crime drama, vampires, zombies or some other aspect of mortality cloaked well in entertainment but somehow we cannot seem to really talk about death outside of an electric box or screen.
There are two things simultaneously happening in our Western world, the avoidance of death in reality by sanitizing our death practices and, our society’s obsession with death as it appears in pop culture, television and film. (One series of books that deals with death wonderfully, is the Harry Potter series.)
We have made death clinical. We refer to “the body”, and more often than not, “the body” may or may not ever be seen again by loved ones. When my mother died and I asked to do her hair for the wake, the funeral home was very reluctant to allow me to do it. I had to insist on this. “Are you sure? We have people here to do that.” When I took out the curling iron from my bag to show them I meant business, someone stood in the corner of the room so I wouldn’t be alone and get myself worked up in to such a state that I had to be carted off by the ambulance. Finally, I said to the person, “This is my mother. This is an intimate moment for me. Please, if you must, stand outside the door, but please leave us alone.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are many people who embrace care for the dead (the Jewish tradition has a wonderful and strong tradition of care of the dead that is simply beautiful). But for the most part, there is a huge shift in our death practices that I have seen in my short 40 something years. In my father’s generation, people were given a wake at home, often on the bed or kitchen table. And I think that is wonderful because it is an honest reality explored in community and family. It is personal and intimate. Nowadays most people won’t let children attend funerals for fear they might not understand (who does at age six?), it would be too upsetting and whole host of other reasons. I disagree with that.
I think a lot of people avoid church, faith communities or hard existential questions posed in ritual because of an unspoken fear of death. And Holy Week brings death, betrayal, execution, loss and pain into focus. I think that people don’t want to hear this story because it is too difficult, too personal and too real on a level that entertainment that focuses on death keeps at a fictional and superficial level. We don’t want to admit that in our lives we have been betrayed, that there is injustice, that people die in horrible circumstances, and, the possibility of this happening to us personally is not probable but possible. We want so badly to be in control of our own lives that we some how trick ourselves into believing we can control our own death (medically assisted dying aside) and to examine not being in control we have to admit we are not. And that leads to the question, “If I am not in control of my life, then who or what is?” Some people come up with the answer of ‘nothing’ and others come up with a “Greater Power”.
We are only hurting ourselves by not looking at death.
It hurts when the final candles of Good Friday are extinguished and we hear the words, “IT IS FINISHED.” It hurts because we feel bad for Jesus- however we see him. It hurts because we know that one day, our life will be finished. It is sad. VERY SAD. But maybe that sadness can transform us and put things into perspective- value life, our life, the lives of those who live in worse conditions than we do. I think we are afraid to go deep and realize how fragile we are, because we may feel vulnerable. This I can tell you- even Jesus died. His vulnerability was his strength. Yes, we are going to get crucified in life. We will get buried, too. But our strength is in our vulnerability if we allow ourselves to be transformed. We are NEVER alone.