Today, Good Friday, is the holiday for the death of Jesus Christ. Or, a day of mourning, an enactment of a loss lifted from history and ritually performed. The question then, if we participate in this day (if not: go pound sand), is, “what, exactly, did we lose?”
Jesus says a lot of things that might characterize his death, but I find the rendition of a scene in Matthew’s gospel compelling. One of the Pharisees asks Jesus why he is not fasting, and Jesus replies, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Adequately, today is the day the “bridegroom” is taken. This is a day of mourning, but I wonder: Jesus was among the Pharisees (as some say, he was probably one of them), yet even the Pharisees continued to mourn and fast in the physical presence of Jesus. Jesus’ body among them was not sufficient to, in a sense, make them into “wedding guests” who do not mourn. Jesus did not dazzle for them. There was nothing intrinsic to Jesus’ body that emanated divinity. Jesus’ body broken is not distinct: it is just a body broken. Participation in his body broken is to then encounter our own bodies, broken, by their own nature.
Well, Jesus represents something more than just our own physical humanness, our own bodies. Most Christians might shout Jesus is God! or Lord! but I think God would at least dazzle the Pharisees (like Jesus did in the transfiguration). And we run into sticky theological issues here, so I’d like to tread a different route.
Jesus exists outside the “order of things.” Now, this order could be first century Judaism, for Jesus provides a critique of it while hanging out with those on the margins. This order could be the political order of the Roman Empire, for Jesus subverts the government. It could be the taken-for-granted social structures like the family, for Jesus tells followers to leave their fathers and mothers. It could even be jobs, or the things performed to survive and sustain a way of life—it could be the future, and the means to achieve it (do not worry about your life, says Jesus). Or, because we are contemporary readers who enact the story (or history? I can’t tell the difference) by retelling it, the order of things could be each of our own profane lives, the empty routine of a disenchanted world, or the hegemony. Whatever it is, Jesus exists outside of it (although Jesus is not just an iconoclast), providing a glimpse of life outside of our own fabrications.
Maybe the Pharisees were caught up in the order of things. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why they mourn and fast. And if Jesus provides a way out of it, offering a glimpse of hope that resonates with our own basic life—the one that resides beneath the fabrications that bind our lives—mourning would be difficult while he was around.
But today, Good Friday, is a day enacting the loss of the hope (that the order of things is not all there is) we found in Jesus. It disappeared with his body. Yet, paradoxically, its absence is an affirmation. For a relinquishment of life that transcends the order of things affirms a type of life to be relinquished—an ineffable one that escapes the objects of our consciousnesses. There is an abundance of life beyond the order of things, and somehow, the death of Jesus unearths this life in us. That is the point.
I do not know how to end this, except to express the inadequacy of conceiving the death of Jesus as a means toward a resurrected end. That seems like a thin dismissal, one deferring this day to the mechanism of history. Instead, Jesus’ death is an end in itself, irreducible to a language that functions as a means. It opens something in us (it may be why it is theologized as a sacrifice); I am not sure what it is, for it resides in a deep ambiguity, where my gut leads and my mind is relinquished. But this type of life, beyond the clarity of mind and structures of the world—with its existence affirmed only by a loss—is captured in this particular death, which, somehow, with it, points to the ceasing of all things that obscure the radiance which emanates from the kingdom of heaven.