Christ Carrying the Cross

Christ Carrying the Cross

Friday, 6 April 2012

Brief Thoughts for a (Good) Friday

Photo blatantly stolen from 'Homebrewed Christianity'
Instead of attending the Good Friday gathering at what I can only imagine (and to be honest, hope) is soon to be my former Baptist church, I spent this morning riding the train downtown to attend service at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church, a cavernous old mainline cathedral filled both with elaborately beautiful stained glass windows and Gothic-inspired arches, and with observant senior citizens and empty spaces in the pews. 

As dispiriting as it was on one level to be in so awe-inspiring a building with so few people, on another level it seemed oddly appropriate. I have a theory that if you are going to go to church on Good Friday, it simply will not do to be in a place that you feel at ease, surrounded by friends and family. However, that is neither here nor there. What I actually want to address is one of the hymns that was sung near the end of the service, a hymn that I had never heard before called "Here Hangs a Man Discarded."

Far from the triumphalist, Victory-first Easter songs I have been forced to endure these past few years, "Here Hangs a Man Discarded" was slow and melancholic; divided into three distinct-yet-enfolding verses, it seemed to correspond almost perfectly with the three primary days of the Easter cycle. I'd like to share the first verse today, followed by a few thoughts of my own (the same will go for Saturday and Sunday, if all goes to plan):

Here hangs a man discarded,
a scarecrow hoisted high,
a nonsense pointing nowhere
to all who hurry by.
Can such a clown of sorrows
still bring a useful word 
when faith and hope seem phantoms
and every hope absurd?

Such language is so pointed in the humiliation and absurdity of Jesus' death as to render it almost blasphemous to "some" traditions. I certainly can't imagine a song like this going over well at my current church. Here we have no elaborate theory of atonement, nor even a heroic revolutionary of the people stoically taking on the punishment of a corrupt system of political and religious oppression. Rather, he seems quite the absurd figure, a man whose work and teachings have led him and his followers no further than to death on a wooden beam and to being scattered to the wind in shame, respectfully.

Even those, and I would certainly count myself among them, who would find greater significance in the death of Christ than this should be struck by the immediacy of the pain on display in this first verse. This is the description of Christ on the cross after he has uttered the (in)famous words credited to him in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani." Godforsaken, stripped all grounding of meaning and love, Jesus does indeed become the existential "man discarded." I think the numerous uses of language attesting to the absurd--"clown of sorrows," "scarecrow hoisted high," "nonsense pointing nowhere"--are essential to conveying the immediate hopelessness of the situation. It's not difficult then to imagine why all of the (male) disciplines fled.

Nonetheless, I feel we are called as Christians to boldly step into this space of despair, disconnectedness and death. After the service at St. Andrew's-Wesley, I went almost immediately to work at my actual church where I am a janitor, and as I was arriving I heard our worship pastor practicing for this evening's service. He was playing a resurrection song. It bugged me at first--and still does, really--but now I'm happy that I can use it as an example. It's been some time since I embraced a literal resurrection, but this doesn't mean I have come to view it as unimportant. However, the resurrection in my opinion becomes absolutely impotent and useless without a proper appreciation for the death that precedes it. Good Friday is a day about death and absurdity and humiliation and remembrance and seeing the ways we build crosses even today through our actions and our institutional structures and despite all of this entering into the space of the Godforsaken Christ to lay down our identities--to lay down our very beings--just as he did so that we might truly take up the cause of the other and maybe even see the love of a God who probably isn't even there but insists and emerges in these bizarre places and relationships anyway.


Until tomorrow.

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