Every year on Good Friday, I notice a peculiar feeling. When I'm out and about, riding the bus or shopping at a store, I feel a strange disconnect between myself and the world around me. Outside, it's an ordinary day. The streets are busy, people are buying and selling, there are families in the parks and planes in the air. It's springtime in Atlanta, and already the earth's beauty is beginning to be seen. Inside, things are different. I feel a sense of loss, a sense of a great drama taking place. This is the day on which we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. I cannot help thinking about it, at least from time to time. In the evening, my wife and I will go to church for a Tenebrae service, somber and sometimes even harsh. When it's over, the worshipers will leave in silence, totally unlike any other service of the year. My awareness of Good Friday makes the very ordinariness of the city and the suburbs seem bizarre, remote, almost unreal. I have my mind on profound and solemn things; to some extent I am even mourning with Jesus' first disciples. The world around me takes no notice, utterly none. And that is as it should be. Good Friday is the one Christian "holiday" that the wider culture, even in America, has not taken up. It is the one holy day whose Christian significance cannot be bleached out to leave a commercially viable residue. Christmas can be for children and families, for shopping, for feasting. Easter can be bunnies and baby chicks, the newness of spring and a whole lot of chocolate. Even a couple of days marked out to honor saints in some Christian traditions-Valentine, Patrick-have been pretty much entirely taken over by a culture of romance and hedonism, sex and shopping. Not this day. There is nothing marketable about Good Friday. Suffering, sacrifice, injustice, betrayal-what's to celebrate? What's to shop for? Who could pig out on a day like that? The absolute impossibility of adapting Good Friday to consumer culture is most evident in the fact that even the greeting card industry, which seems capable of churning out more or less appropriate little notes for every conceivable religious event and life occasion, has nothing for today. Can you imagine it?
Because he bled and died,
    We're all choked up inside.
It's not a lovely day,
   But I still hope you're okay.

   Wishing you and yours a joyless, grave,
   and yet oddly hopeful Good Friday.

There is simply no way for a culture devoted to lightweight enjoyment and superficial relationships to come to terms with Good Friday. It is, in a sense, the last bulwark of genuine Christian spirituality against the sea of pop religion that has overwhelmed the American churches. This is our day. Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and Nashville can't take it away from us because they have no idea what to do with it. Yet this day represents the central mystery in the religion that many want to claim as America's own. Not only did God become a mortal man, Christianity maintains, but he went all the way through with it, "even unto death." And not just any death: the Son of God died unjustly at the hands of a worldwide empire that used every means at its disposal to suppress insurgents. A death by torture, a death of shame, a death of horror. Nor was it solely that, we claim, one more crucifixion among so many hundreds. We say God took on this death in order to give the world life. We say God knew suffering and tragedy so that we might never more feel that we suffer alone. We say God washed away our sins in the blood of him who was God made flesh. There is no greeting card, no trinket, no wrapping paper to celebrate that. Here grief and giving, loss and love, sorrow and salvation mingle in a way that calls forth the most penetrating efforts of human art and
intellect to portray and understand. Here is a mystery that is profound beyond cheapening, beyond compromising. It is our day, beyond any culture's ability to absorb and control. Good Friday is an enduring sign of Christianity's maladjustment to the world. Jesus died as the ultimate outsider to power, success, honor, and prosperity. Every time we try to make our religion somehow compatible with those values-that is to say, every day we live this human life-the cross of Good Friday will stand, in its solemnity, its poverty, and its grief, as the final roadblock to our desire to be conformed. Good Friday also keeps us mindful of the ultimately paradoxical nature of Christian faith. This day of betrayal and death and grief commemorates what we believe to be our source of life and joy. Day-to-day culture thrives on simple explanations, straightforward accounts. Jesus' claim that "whoever loses their life will save it" (Mark 8:35) makes no sense in that culture, and Good Friday is a lasting rebuke to our desire to dumb down God's ways to the level of our security and comfort.

Good Friday keeps me honest in the world. It's a day when I can't simply be an American consumer, when I can't just walk down the street and be one of the oblivious crowd, busy but satisfied with my own goals and values. It points me toward another reality, a painful yet lifegiving reality, the reality of God. It wakes me up. It reminds me that if I, like the apostle Paul, am "always carrying Jesus' dying around in my body" (2 Corinthians 4:10), then there must be something of Good Friday in every day.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad