“Do this in memory of me …”
Before they could remember it, they had to experience it. But before they could truly experience it, they had to have a context for it – and that context was Passover.
What does it mean to “remember”? Some have noted the word itself has a sense of putting things back together – taking something that has been dismembered, and re-membering it.
One way to approach the Christian “Good Friday” is to think of it as a time when someone was pulled apart. And this “someone” is all of us – pulled apart by forces around us and within us that seem to overwhelm us. It has a universal quality to it. Think of boats capsizing, airplanes falling out of the sky, hate-filled shooters taking random shots at people, bombs going off at sporting events. Think of speech filled with hate, and greed that runs roughshod over hard working folk, taking everything they have labored for. Think of it as systems who use “too big to fail” as the pathetic excuse for their immoral practices – and the politicians too cowardly to hold them accountable. Think of personal prejudices that hide within policies that continue to discriminate.
The list of things that dismember a society, rend the heart, quench the life-giving spirit in us – it is a long list indeed. Good Friday is a day that comes around every year and forces us to face up to what happens when we give such things untethered freedom to work their evil. We say that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What we fail to recognize is the fact that we all die because of our sins – everyday. The crucifixion of the Christian Messiah is but a snapshot, with none of the gruesome details left out, of what is going on. This is what happens when we convince ourselves that we can wash our hands of responsibility for our neighbor. This is what happens when governments spend lavishly on implements of war. This is what happens when religion becomes ritualized to the point of absurdity.
Passover was meant to be celebrated annually by the Jewish Community. The point wasn’t only to recall an ancient and miraculous liberation; the point is to come to our senses and realize that we are still in need of liberation from what enslaves us. The mean habits we have adopted individually and the mindless policies we adopt as a society need to be challenged. Passover doesn’t need us; we need Passover. We need to feel the true weight of slavery to sin, the full burden of the cost of enslaving others. Passover starts in metaphorical Egypt – not so much a specific geographic location as it is a global reality. Pick any nation at any time in history. Pick the United States during the long years of stealing Africans from their homes. Pick the US when we react irrationally and force Japanese Americans into internment camps during WW II. Pick the US when we convince ourselves we can bomb some other nation into doing things our way. For goodness’ sake, look at what our forebears did to the native peoples of this land! What price do we pay for pulling other people apart?
Good Friday is a call to soul searching. It is not meant to leave us shaking our heads in wonder at the evil impulse in others. It is meant to show us the true colors of our own impulses. It is the realization of our worst nightmare. Absolute darkness. Judaism begins in metaphorical Egypt; Christianity begins on mythological Golgotha. Both locations are real, but both are much larger than their respective points on a map.
It may have seemed to the ancients that they would never taste freedom again. It may have seemed that there was absolutely no reward for innocence. Jews and Christians each have their individual moments of despair. Both portray what untethered evil looks and feels like. And both hold that, whether or not it seems to matter to any of us, it most definitely matters to the God at the center of our faith.