Good Friday is a hard day. It is the day when the consequence of our actions are made manifest. Last night we humbled ourselves and washed the feet of another person; or maybe it was that we humbled ourselves and allowed our feet to be washed. Following that ritual we moved into the church, received our final Communion meal of the week, and either watched or participated in the stripping of the altar.
Last night we told Jesus we didn't need him in our life, and we removed everything that reminded us of him. Today we participate in his execution by either actively shouting, “Crucify him!” or by standing idly by, not wanting to get involved. Our level of participation varies, but our culpability remains constant.
Make no mistake – we are culpable. In reading John's version of the Passion, it might be easy to blame “the Jews,” or the Romans. But we must remember that John, like all gospel writers, had a political agenda that shaped his story. And if we use this passage as a basis for anti-Semitism, or as a basis to blame anyone but ourselves, we are missing the point by a wide margin.
Instead of using the crucifixion as a reason to condemn others, or using it as a basis for sentimental piousness, the crucifixion should make us aware of the suffering of Others, especially those who suffer at the hands of those in power by virtue of their money, their politics, their gender, their sexuality, their race, or any number of things that allows one person to dominate another person. We may not be actively driving the nails into Jesus' hand and feet, but all too often we are the ones standing idly by, refusing to get involved.
The reading from Isaiah is referred to as “the suffering servant,” and is often used as a prophecy for Jesus and his crucifixion. In that passage, Isaiah writes, “By a perversion of justice he was taken away.” There is much talk in Christian circles about this trial of Jesus being just that – a perversion of justice. Kangaroo court and illegal also get thrown into the mix.
If Good Friday is to teach us anything, it should give us an understanding of cruelty. It should teach us that the pain and suffering of the innocent, outcast, different and Other are not the will of God. Perverted justice should appall us as much as it appalls God. Pain and suffering can have meaning, but that meaning is lost if we don't learn from it.
If the pain and suffering of those killed by the Nazis – Jews, Christians, gays, crippled, Gypsies and more – are ignored, systematic ethnic cleansing can and will rise again. If the pain and suffering of those fighting for equal rights in the 50's, 60's and into today are ignored, if we allow a vocal, hateful minority free reign to abuse people that are different, then we will too easily fall into the comfortable but sinful ideology of “rights for me but not for thee.”
Yes, we gather today to contemplate those mighty acts by which Jesus' pain and suffering redeemed the world. But we must also look on those shameful acts that crucified an innocent man and ask, “If they were shameful then, are they not shameful today?” Anytime we allow people to suffer injustices, either because we actively participate in their marginalization or because we stand idly by, then we are on the wrong side of the cross.
This Good Friday we remember more than any other day that Jesus died for our sins. And that is a good thing. But we must also remember that his death was at the hands of an unjust system. And that is a bad thing. We must also remember that unjust systems are still in place today. And that is a very bad thing.
As we contemplate the death of an innocent man we name as Savior, maybe we should also spend some time contemplating whether or not we've learned anything.