I’ve come to realize that every parent, at some time or another, is forced into the practice of being a theologian. At least, that is, if you’re at all listening to your kid (or the many children surrounding us in this parish). Just ask those who volunteer with the children’s ministries of Godly Play or Children’s chapel. It is all about practical theology. And they really do not care whether you have an “Rev.” or “Dr.” or any other abbreviation in front of your name. They just want honest answers to their many, many questions.
As you may have heard me mention before, seminary was nothing compared to the education my children have given me in regards to theological inquiry.
For instance, just the other day while we were driving home from school my son told me that he was feeling sad. That alone is enough to break a parent’s heart, but I pressed on to ask him what was bothering him. “Why are you sad?”
“You know,” he said, “Jesus having to die…after all the good stuff he did for us.”
“Yes,” I sympathized, “that is sad.”
A rare moment of profound silence passed, and then he asked, “Dad, why do they call it Good Friday if Jesus dies?”
Good question. Why do we call it Good Friday? What could possibly be good about the day that brought out the very worst in humanity?
It brought to mind all the textbook answers about why Friday in Holy Week might be called “good.” Was it that, in middle English, the day used to be called “God’s Friday,” which evolved into Good Friday – much like “God be with you” morphed into “good-bye”? Perhaps.
Is it that Christ’s sacrifice is, in retrospect, actually a good thing for us? Is it good because it’s about atonement, propitiation, reconciliation, and forgiveness of sin? Well, none of those words are really going to make much sense to a nine-year-old. And in truth, they don’t always make sense to us adults either.
Sure, it’s about all that. But it still doesn’t entirely make good sense why we call this Good Friday.
Jesus is dead. There’s just no getting around that. And, what’s worse, is that people just like you and me betrayed him (like Judas), denied him (like Peter), abandoned him (like all the rest), killed him (complicit in mob rule).
What’s so good about that?
In another conversation earlier this week, this time with my daughter (the “10 year-old litigator” as someone once called her), I was asked to explain about hospice care. “What does it mean when someone goes ‘into hospice,’” she asked. Unfortunately, this interrogation took place before my first cup of coffee had had time to work its magic.
“Well,” I stumbled into my explanation, “hospice helps people die with dignity. It means they’re not going to seek further medical treatment, but rather, are preparing to die.”
“Well, we’re all getting older,” she shot back. “Aren’t we all preparing to die?”
Again, good question. Yes, I suppose in a way, we are all preparing to die. And this is, in part, what can be so difficult about the liturgies of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which force us to confront our own mortality…the inescapable fact that we are all going to die. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return….(now have a nice day 🙂
It is ironic, yet a true statement, that preparing to die often leads to a greater depth of living. It causes us to ask the really important questions, place things in proper perspective, and say the things that really matter to the people who matter most. Preparing to die, in fact, ends up having a lot to do with being fully alive.
For those who would follow Christ, even to the cross, we must prepare to die. In our baptism, we are crucified with Christ, burying those old parts of ourselves that rightly need to die. In our struggle with egotism and selfishness, we are constantly called to practice dying to self. So that when our time on earth shall come to an end, we are well versed in knowing how to let go, and trust ourselves, our souls, and bodies into the care of our Creator and Redeemer.
I recall, that when I turned 34 years old, how odd it seemed to have outlived my savior. Tradition holds that Jesus died around the time he was 33. Not a mark of longevity by any measure. I had always thought of myself as younger than Jesus, who theologically I knew was ageless, yet who truly experienced life and death after a relatively short thirty some years.
It made me wonder, how old do I want to be when I die? At what point do we stop saying “only the good die young” and instead say “well, they lived a full life”? Is it once we hit our 80s, 90s, 100 years old? What is the measure of a life fully lived?
I’ve come to the preliminary conclusion that a life fully lived is not primarily about the quantity of years, but rather, the quality of those years. The life of the Christian is a life immersed in the paschal mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Though it is impossible to completely parse that mystery apart, Good Friday is about the mystery of death, the mystery of why we call this Good Friday. The mystery of faith, wherein we proclaim “Christ has died…”
The Rev. Brad Landry
St. Paul’s – San Antonio
Good Friday – 2017