According to the Western Church, today is Good Friday. I doubt there’s many people in Europe and the Americas who don’t know that Good Friday is the observation of the anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion.
This evening went went to see the “Stations of the Cross” at Harvest Foursquare Church. It not being a Catholic church, I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t the traditional Stations of the Cross. Instead of fourteen stations, there were nine (which made me think of Norse mythology, not Christianity). I think they did a good job with it, even if I would have done some things differently and would have included some things left out, like Peter’s denial.
At the devotional, I was thinking about the significance of Good Friday. The central theme of Good Friday is the Crucifixion. In modern times, this point tends to be downplayed, either seen as symbolic death or cleaned up. Mel Gibson did show the messiness of it in his The Passion of the Christ (whether you like the things he said in it or not), and many people went to see it, but the shock of it wasn’t what people wanted. It was a temporary thing, then they moved on.
Death isn’t something most people in Western civilization want to think about. We do everything we can to distance ourselves from it. We take our elderly and put them in rest homes and avoid visiting them because they remind us that one day we, too, will die. Our obsession with health is an attempt to live longer, to put off death. When people commit suicide, we won’t talk about it and concentrate on calling them cowards and focusing on how they shouldn’t have killed themselves, instead of accepting that they did. When people die, we rush through the funeral and the other things that go along with a death, trying to make it go away as fast as possible.
In Jewish tradition, Shivah lasts seven days, starting with the funeral. After Shivah, the parents grieve for thirty days from the time of the funeral. Kaddish can be said for the deceased for as much as a year (though actually as much as eleven months and a day). Yahrzeit is observed on the anniversary of the death (based on the Hebrew calendar, not the Gregorian that is normally used in the West) from then on. Death isn’t something that is dealt with quickly and forgotten quickly.
Many cultures and traditions have ancestor worship or ancestor veneration. In these cultures, those that went before are very important. Death isn’t something to fear and avoid thinking about, because the connection to the dead is strong in these cultures. To some, it is just a memory, but to some, they are guides and protectors of the family.
People shy away from the subject of sacrifice. I have heard people who believe they are Christians say they don’t believe in the Crucifixion because how could a loving god expect sacrifice of any type let alone a human, and definitely not his son. I hear the same thing from neopagans, some of which worship gods like Odin who required human sacrifice under Norse, or whichever, belief. In most societies in the world, blood sacrifices were the norm at one time. Whether they are right or wrong, it’s only more recently that it’s become a taboo. It wasn’t confined to just Judaism.
The only way to understand Christianity is to understand that in God there is both Mercy and Judgement. You need to understand both sacrifice and death, and love and rebirth.
Good Friday is a day of Death and of Darkness. It isn’t a joyful or pleasant holiday, but the joy of Easter doesn’t come without the death of Good Friday.