God is Dead (And We Have Killed Him): A Reflection for Good Friday 2023

Good Friday is a day when time stands still. It’s a moment when all is laid bare, when everything has been said and done, when, as Jesus put it, “It is finished.” As I stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, I often have a sense of God asking me, “So now what?” Now that, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “The end of the matter; all has been heard” (12.13), what are we to say? What are we to do? How should we live?

The end of the matter. “It is finished”. All has been heard. We’ve now seen humanity’s response to the goodness, love, and grace we claim to want. If the story of Good Friday is any indication, we humans prefer self-protective hardness to Jesus’ self-offering vulnerability. We prefer “the way things work” (even though it is killing us and we know it’s killing us) to the challenge and possibility of change. We prefer the politics of exclusion to Jesus’ heart of welcome. We find God guilty on charges of blasphemy for challenging our assumptions, and  of revolutionary rabble-rousing for challenging the status quo. And so, we nail him to the cross — surely as much today as two thousand years ago.

God is dead; and we have killed him. And yet, as I wrote in last year’s reflection, the death of God is also a theophany, a revelation of God. The Cross reveals God’s heart for the world as much as it reveals the world’s rejection of that heart. The Cross is where we see God. The Cross is a burning bush, a whirlwind, an angelic sparring partner. The Cross stands always as a direct challenge for us and all of our assumptions about the world, no matter what those assumptions may be.

One of the few pieces of Martin Luther’s theology for which I’m grateful is his helpful spotlight on what he called the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Where do we see God most readily? Do we see God in triumph — in political wins, in military might, in strength, in wealth, in fanfare? Or do we see God most in the cross — in loss, in persecution, in anguish? As Jürgen Moltmann rightly pointed out, the theology of glory is not wrong, but it becomes a sick parody of itself when it is not first understood through the lens of the cross. The true theology of glory is the theology of the cross. It seems to me that much of Christianity over the centuries, whether in the fusion of Church and Empire under Constantine, the Church’s collusion in the European colonial project, or in today’s prosperity gospel and so-called ‘Christian Nationalism’ (as if such a thing could ever legitimately exist), has wanted glory without the cross. That is to say, it doesn’t want Easter, for Easter presupposes Good Friday. Rather, it wants to remain in a perpetual Palm Sunday. It wants the joyous, victorious procession through the streets, welcoming Christ as a victorious, vanquishing warrior king. But, we cannot stay there, for that was always a misunderstanding of who Christ was. We are not a Palm Sunday people. We are an Easter people. And that means we are a Good Friday people.

So, if Good Friday stops us in our tracks, good. It should. We need to be a Good Friday people so we can truly be Easter people. Good Friday reveals to us humanity’s (and we, all of us, are included in humanity’s ranks) knee-jerk response to God. And so it calls us away from that, to repent, to change our hearts and minds and see our battered, hurting, heart-broken world through God’s eyes. If the Cross tells us anything it is to stop putting people on crosses, because we crucify God alongside them every time. And when we are crucified by the world (even and especially when it’s the world disguised as the Church!), that God is alongside us too.

“It is finished.” “The end of the matter; all has been heard.” What are we to say? What are we to do? How should we live? May we all be a Good Friday people, so we can be an Easter people. Amen.

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