After the weekend of chocolate and roasts: a reflection on Easter, Good Friday and not winning.
"It's Friday, but Sunday's comin'!" Legendary American preacher Tony Campolo's trademark phrase always makes an appearance around Easter. Yes, he's saying, it all looks dark right now. Our Lord looks like he's been defeated. But wait. Just wait until Sunday. Until the Resurrection and Easter. Then you'll see what wining really looks like.
And he's right. The Resurrection changes everything. Easter is the cornerstone of our hope.
But I think Good Friday can teach us more than the climactic scene in a sports movie. More than: They think it's all over, but here's the Resurrection! The crowd goes wild and breaks into an ecstasy of tongues!
I think in our excitement about Sunday, we've forgotten what Friday can teach us: that sometimes it's okay not to win.
That's what we're saying, mostly, when we allude to Easter on Good Friday, isn't it? If we're honest? Just a little bit? The guy we were rooting for wins in the end, so wipe that smug look off your face, opposing team. We win.
And this is prevalent across liberal and conservative, progressive and traditional streams of our Church. The growing number of Christians whose squeamishness over penal substitution has led them to embrace the old (legitimate) alternative view of the Atonement, Christus Victor, is matched by triumphalist strength-worshippers who seem uncomfortable with Jesus' softer side. None of us like to be on the losing side. That's why Good Friday is so important.
The God of the universe, who could have called to his aid legions of beings so terrifying that the first thing they almost always say is: "Wait!Chill!Don't freak out!", allows himself to be horrifically and unjustly tortured to death. Allows himself to be beaten. And not, as we tend to think of it, pretend-beaten, as if Sunday's events make it any easier.
Jesus pleads not to have to go through it in Gethsemane. He thinks God has abandoned him. He actually dies. He loses.
Could the message of Easter be that even from the worst loss in history, God can create a different kind of miraculous goodness, that transcends our childish need for simple victory? Isn't that the beauty of Christianity generally? It's not that our weakness disappears, but that in it he is made strong. It's not that old lives never happened, but that he has transformed them into something better. It's not that the Earth will pass away, but it will be made new.
Not that we always win, but that our losing can be the raw material of his greatest works.
Jesus comes back, raised from the dead, the first-born of God's resurrected - and his hands and side still bear the marks of how he was overpowered, stripped naked and killed. Those marks are reminders to us, so that we never forget what has happened, but they are not a source of shame. They tell us God's goodness is so immense we don't always need to fight so hard, don't always need to control things to keep them perfect, don't need to despair if we fail.
Jesus' wounds tell us to put away our swords, to restrain ourselves from using our power, to demonstrate a love for enemies that the world can never understand - a love that lets our enemies win - because in our losing, God can do incredible things. This is why we turn the other cheek. This is why we forgive. Not, as it has become popular to assert, because it's a more effective way of winning, but because when we allow ourselves to be beaten, we leave space for God to convict hearts, heal anger and break into the fabric of this world.
The lesson of Good Friday for us, here in the real world, is that we don't have to argue so hard or so much. We don't have to go to war so readily and we need not be so quick and keen to punish those who have done wrong. It is not our job to make sure good always wins in the way we want it to win. Our sense of justice, given to us by God, it's true, may rebel against this, but what cause would have been more just than protecting the spotless lamb of God from the schemes of evil men? And can we not learn something from the fact that his Apostles, when they faced martyrdom (and were not dying for our sins), also refused to fight?
They allowed themselves to be beaten, both literally and figuratively, yes, because of what they learned from Easter, but also from what Good Friday taught them. For God ultimately to win, sometimes it is acceptable and necessary for us to lose.