Friday, April 06, 2012

What is so 'good' about this dark Friday?


My daughter asked, me this question: Why good Friday, when it was the day of the cross?

Indeed, in many ways, the "Good Friday", scene as painted by the gospel of Mark, is dark, but more than that, it contrasts the Old and the New. Whilst the birth of the new is always exciting, it remains painful; it remains also an end, of sorts. The new always has an element of an ending, a loss, a death. 

Looking closer at the texts, one can see that Mark draws sharp contrasts, illustrating the old and the new, but also the contestation between these.  Mark 15:16-31 foregrounds the mockery, the humiliation of Jesus. Die eerste 3 ure staan, in die teken van spot. Its fascinating how people respond to the new, or to the break-in of the new. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” (Ghandi). Another variant is, "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you…

Markus skets egter die volgende 3 ure in die teken van duisternis – miskien moet ons dit nie letterlik neem nie; dis ‘n teken… van rou van belangrike persone, die rou van die skepping. Some Old Testament scholars, speaks of “die straling van die heerlikheid van Christus skyn so groot dat die son daaronder beswyk’ However, it is critical to read the phenomenon of and the symbolism of darkness, against the background of the Old Testament, in particular Amos 8:9: Darkness stands in relation to the day of the Lord. For the Jews’ understanding, (Judaism) it was the day God will deal with all their enemies. For the enemy it was to be a day of darkness; for the people of God a day of light (Verhoef). That was the expectation, the nationalistic interpretation, the interpretation of people who saw themselves at the centre of Gods plans. They based their interpretation on their ethnic roots. Yet, the prophet, Amos turns this around:  The nation Israel, itself will see and experience darkness, the concrete ethnic, nation will experience the wrath of God, because of their own injustice, the evil in their midst. It’s not enough to be God’s people in name, but live a life of injustice.  God’s darkness will fall upon the sin, sinners, those who rejected God’s ethical code. Amos connects with Isaiah 53, where God will send his servant, from the outside. His servant, a foreigner will take the sins of the world, yet there is also a future dimension pointing to the Messiah.

It makes sense therefor that Jesus’ prayer on the cross, is also related to the Old Testament: Ps 22.  He sees deeper then the suffering, the cross. There were other martyrs, political martyrs, nationalistic heroes who died for the people; Jesus’ death however, has a deeper meaning. Jesus came as a Jew, steeped in the traditions of Judaism, yet his life was also the sign of a break with Judaism, with the expectations of their religion, their ethnic and nationalistic aspirations, his death points to the break with the ‘old’; with the well-known imagination, his cross points to the new.

I refer to three ways in which his death is a break with the Old:
1)      The day of darkness is not simply the usual imagination, of revenge and wrath, towards the enemies; its now directed towards the people self, towards their own guilt. More so, God do not punish the guilty ones, but his own son, in their place. The little lamb which was the sacrifice for the priests, was not enough, God provided a new lamb, the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Darkness fell on God’s Lamb, separation, death, judgement. In the darkness and death, however there is the seed of new life.
2)      The death of Jesus, his last breath, also breaks down the dividing wall, it tore the curtains down, between the people and the Holy of Holies. Yes, in the old, there is separation between the people and holiness. Only the priest, here the Holy One hangs in between criminals. Yes, he separates those who call upon their names in repentance, and those who call His name in vain, mocking him. He connects sacred and secular, yet it remains those who call upon his name, ‘Jesus remember me…’ who are saved.
3)      Jesus breaks open the divisions between people, the heathen confess; women became the people of God. The centurion was a man who knew and experienced the brutality of war, the insanity of the life of a soldier, he was part of the machinery which crucified Jesus, yet at the foot of the cross, he also finds love, healing, new perspective. He finds the break with his own past; he finds the clues to a new life, ,a broken body, blood, a cross, Jesus. His confession is the break into the newness of life, but also into a new community.
The women were rejected, part of the property of men, in the Middle-East up to today, they are despised, they don’t have human rights. Up until this point they are invisible children in the stories of the Old. Phantoms, who remain part of the background. Here, at the foot of the cross, they, gain a new identity, new names. Yes, it was their names all the time, but here they are called by their names. Affirmed. Recognised.

Indeed, in the darkest day, history is spit. On the darkest Friday, God’s new is birthed; it’s a painful birth; it’s a new day, in the dark hour. It’s the new dawn. The night still hover, but on the horizon, one can already see the signs of a new day, Dark Friday is also Good Friday, the broken body, the blood, death, the cross also connects with, anticipates an open grave, the Third Day, Resurrection Sunday…. But it’s in dying that we find life. The Hymn states, ‘deur die kruis leef ons sterf om te leef’ Let us sing that and together join in eating the bread and drinking the wine.