Around 2,000 years ago a young, 33 year old, well-known teacher who had gathered quite a following and reputation was brutally beaten and then crucified on a Roman cross outside of Roman-occupied Jerusalem, while being jeered by crowds of Jewish religious leaders and their accolytes (who left their Passover preparations specifically to come and do that). What’s good about that?
You might not hear this in your church, but the answer is “nothing”. In the Christian faith, we don’t celebrate Friday (we commemorate it). We wait for Sunday.
The only thing “good” about this day is WHY Jesus was killed. The first actual Easter Friday was a complete horror show for everyone who supported Jesus. Their dreams were shattered, their hopes destroyed, their futures dark. They didn’t know that Sunday was coming.
So why was Jesus killed?
Firstly, he challenged the dominant worldview of some of the religious leaders of his day. Some of the Jewish leaders of the day, who were precursors and archetypes of the conservative leaders of Christian churches today, had built a religion based on exclusion. Their constant message to the world around them was “you are not welcome here”. There constant message to their “chosen people” followers was “you are a persecuted minority who’s main task is to remain separated and pure, while awaiting your Messiah to come and rescue you from this evil world.” Their message was about being rescued from destruction. Today’s equivalents offer nothing much more than a religion based on fearing a hell of eternal conscious torment after death.
Jesus’ message had been one that ripped open the heart of this toxic version of religion. Jesus had preached and demonstrated a welcoming, inclusive and universal love. If Jesus was to be believed, you wouldn’t need to connect to God via religious leaders, holy locations or sacred rituals. If Jesus was right, those conservative religious leaders were not merely wrong, they were blatantly anti-Messiah. They preached purity, Jesus was a friend of sinners. They preached purity of theology, Jesus continually said, “You have heard it said, BUT I TELL YOU…”. They preached exclusion, but Jesus welcomed everyone from prostitutes to heathens, from tax collectors to foreigners, from young people to gay Centurions, from the oppressors to the oppressed. They created barriers to entry and endless purity tests to cast doubt on your salvation, whereas Jesus made it easy to enter his Kingdom and joyous to be part of it.
Jesus threw open the doors of the banquet, quite angrily asking the religious of his day why their party had so few people attending. The religious leaders hated that their “gospel” message had been exposed as a toxic blend of exclusion, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and judgement. God’s message of love had been twisted into a message of exclusion and judgemental hate.
They wanted Jesus dead because they hated his version of the Good News. (Some people are concerned that historically some Christians have used the fact that Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead as an excuse to persecute Jews. This is true. And we need to be careful not to open the door to any anti-semitism in the way we talk about this. I hope you will notice that my main issue here is not the small group of 1st century Pharisees and Saducees who conspired against Jesus, but rather all toxic religious leaders in the Judeo-Christian tradition who preach exclusion and oppression).
The second group of people who wanted Jesus dead were the Romans. Or more technically, the Jewish puppet leaders who had sold out to the Roman occupiers and oppressors. Jesus had been fomenting dissent against political and economic oppression. But it was like nothing anyone had seen before. Although Jesus had a Zealot in his discipleship inner circle, Jesus’ solution was not military. Jesus did not believe that we should dismantle oppressive political and economic systems by “fighting fire with fire”. He felt that we could win over the hearts and minds of people who would form a new type of community that would care for each other, and ensure that there was no one in the community who had too much when others in the community did not have enough. I wouldn’t call it socialism, and it wasn’t communism, but it most definitely wasn’t capitalism either. Jesus had a different system in mind altogether. The political and economic leaders of the day hated him for it and wanted him dead.
What is good about Good Friday is that Jesus’ picture of a world where rich people do not hoard wealth, but rather share it with those who do not have enough is still the best way to set up society.
That’s what was happening in the physical world.
In the spiritual world, there was one more layer of meaning. This world has a lot of evil in it. I’m not just talking about the odd bad things that some people do now and again. Nor am I talking about hardened criminals and evil people who only do bad things all of the time. I am saying that the world’s systems are evil. Politics, economics, religions, etc are corrupt and corruptible, and people get ahead in these spheres by exploiting and oppressing others. The whole system is corrupting, and even the best people cannot stand against its corruption for long.
The Christian faith labels this “sin”. Too many Christians only think of sin as individual wrong actions done by individuals sinners. But the Bible is a lot more concerned about systems and structures of sin. And if those systems and structures were personified into something the Bible calls “The Satan”, then this was the third entity that wanted Jesus dead. If Satan could get rid of Jesus, the promise of change, of Good News, of salvation, could be killed with him. Or so they thought.
All these things put Jesus on the Cross. Not just 2,000 years ago, but again today, these things want the real Jesus dead.
Today is Good Friday because it is good to take some time to reflect on which parts of our world are toxic, which systems and structures are bringing harm to the world, and which bits of our current political, economic, religious and societal systems need to die.
This includes capitalism, communism, conservative evangelical and reformed Christianity, racial segregation, anti-LGBTQI sentiment, and so much more. These are the things that tell millions of people that they are outsiders, unworthy, less than human. These are the things that damage, dim and destroy the image of God that I believe is in every person. This also includes reflecting on our own personal sinfulness in these areas and the ways that we perpetuate injustice, inequity, exclusion and evil in the world. We all do. We are all sinners.
Imagine we could build a world that is free of sin and evil, and gives everyone a chance to become the best person they can be. That would be amazing. Some might call it “heaven”. The fact that Jesus opened the door to heaven by dying – and rising again – is why Christians call today “Good”. Well, Christians who actually want the doors of the Kingdom opened to everyone, rather than try to barricade them shut against the unwashed masses who might come in if Jesus’ loving invitation to sinners was truly understood and preached.