Did you know that Jesus died on Good Friday? Sometimes I wonder if I should regularly ask folks this question. As a child who grew up in the Reformed tradition, I was never really exposed to the death of Jesus. I would see a Crucifix when I was with a Catholic friend, but that was really a curiosity, not anything important. I know that for some parents it is important to protect our children from the graphic reality of Jesus’ death, but I’m not sure if it is necessary nor good to totally take death out of the Easter equation. As a child I remember shouting “Hosanna!” and “He Lives!” but in-between there wasn’t much else.
In our house we have had some very frank and meaningful discussions about death with Colin and Johnny. In some ways these conversations are forced by the fact that in our family we can’t avoid the subject. I officiate funerals with relative frequency and have to explain where I am going. We also have faced questions about death since both of Sheila’s parents are deceased and we visit their graves on holidays. Nevertheless, it is tempting to hide death, even with regards to Jesus.
The problem is that, without the death part of Jesus, the rest of his story is an empty reality. Resurrection can’t occur unless we know that His death was real. I’m reminded of the Lazarus story where the stench of death was all around. The power of God to bring life from death was heightened by the fact that those who loved Lazarus experienced real death and sorrow.
Now I’m not advocating for us to scare our children with a harsh, bloody Hollywood death. I don’t think our children necessarily need to watch the crucifixion scene from “The Passion of Christ.” Children can experience the reality of death without seeing how it happens. I just wonder if sometimes we underestimate our children’s ability to understand how God works in the mystery of death. In fact, children are more likely to be able to connect with God’s divine imagination than most adults. They haven’t had the sense of wonder and amazement striped from their world view like adults. Think about how many fairy tales are more sinister than Jesus’ story and involve a main character or victim who is a child.
A few weeks ago when our dog, Shelby, died I was amazed at how creative and faith-filled Colin, who is seven years old, was with his understanding. Now we can debate the theological consequence of “dog Jesus” some other time, but he took the reality of death and worked to put his developing faith to work. He wasn’t afraid of death and was able to deal with this loss in a more positive way than I was.
Good Friday is a critical waypoint in our faith. It is the moment where God’s deepest love is expressed. It is when our sin is brought to bear on Jesus. Yet, even as adults we try to clean it up and rush to the empty tomb. I remember a quote from Tony Campolo where he used the refrain in a sermon, “It’s Friday now, but Sunday’s coming.” I understand what he is saying, but I worry that this is the only message we share. The Christian life is more than a Sunday faith. Our lives are lived in the midst of the latter parts of Holy Week. We live in and through Good Friday and what some call Black Saturday. I hope that this year you might be able to live with the uncomfortable reality of death, even if it’s only for a day or so.
Yes, Sunday is coming, but it’s not here yet. Friday and Saturday are dark days that are filled with death, doubt, fear and even hell. Our promise of Sunday should allow us to face those dark days with confidence. We can face death because we know that God has done something radically different with it in Jesus.