On Resonance: A Good Friday Reflection
I was not in the mood for an “I’m spiritual but not religious” conversation this week. I had just buried one of our church’s saints. I had been planning a vigil in honour of a young man who took his own life and processing it with those most affected by this. There was the usual fatigue of Holy Week with its multiple services to prepare. All in all, my appetite was very low for another critique of religion or the church from an earnest and painfully certain twenty-something.
The conversation meandered down familiar terrain. There was the usual constellation of issues connected to race and gender and sexuality and identity and identity and IDENTITY. The church was very bad when it came to all of these things, in this person’s experience. My interlocutor was quick to add that they were not judging anyone who believed in God or who inexplicably stuck with the church. This was a relief, I suppose, although the conversation that preceded this interjection certainly seemed to be trafficking in some fairly certain judgments. There was a bit of half-hearted acknowledgement that the church taught some “good values” about love and compassion. My conversation partner was grateful for a few of these things, but there was too much bad stuff to accept the whole package. “I just take the parts that resonate with my personal journey and leave the rest behind.”
Last night, I led our church in a simple Maundy Thursday service where we walked through the story of Jesus from the Last Supper and betrayal through the garden of Gethsemane and the arrest and the farcical trial and ultimately to his grim execution at the Place of the Skull. It is a story of deceit and self-interest and political manoeuvring and fear and condemnation and accusation and cowardice and confusion and denial and of course of gruesome violence.
As I was listening to this awful story of salvation’s cost, I thought back to my “spiritual but not religious” conversation. My first thought was, “The cross doesn’t ‘resonate with my personal journey.’” It’s not supposed to. The cross is a shattering indictment not a ratification of whatever residual spiritual impulses remain in a (confusedly) secular age. The cross, like the one who hung upon it, is something from which our first instinct is to turn away in horror and revulsion.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of a servant who
had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account (Isaiah 52:2-3).
What is true of Christ is at first glance also true of his cross. This execution is a failure. We do not want this. This doesn’t make us feel very spiritual or enlightened. It is of little use in advancing our narratives of authenticity and self-discovery. It does not resonate.
And yet, the cross does resonate. At least it should. For the cross exposes the shadow side of our humanity, the dark impulses to scapegoat and reject and ridicule, the self-righteousness and thirst for violence and retribution that lurk in our hearts and minds. We are Judas in our betrayals, in our disillusionment with a God who doesn’t do what we think he should. We are Peter in our denials, desperate to save face and preserve reputation. We are the religious leaders more concerned about preserving our precious morality and our institutions than with sick people finding healing. We are Pilate—we can’t help but admire this man but we’re too afraid of the mob to speak what we know to be true. We are the soldiers ridiculing the one who can’t save himself, who just hangs there impotently suffering. We are the thieves, alternately mocking and pleading for mercy. We are Jesus’ mother weeping for the pain and the evil of the world.
Good Friday certainly resonates. God, how it resonates. God, how I wish it didn’t.
The prophet Isaiah continues:
Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities (53:11).
Out of anguish, light. A servant who shall make many righteous. From old saints to desperate young people who despair of life to the “spiritual but not religious” to the all-too-certain to the not nearly certain enough to the betrayers and deniers to the frightened and confused to all those who watch and weep and wait for his coming. He shall bear our iniquities, one and all. He shall stubbornly hold out his resonant hope.
The image above is taken from the 2021-22 Christian Seasons Calendar. It is called “Stations of the Cross” by Mary Jane Miller.