Good Friday A2017
by Pastor Sarah Stadler
In the swirling mass of Good Friday images: crown of thorns, blood, nails.
In the chaotic movement from Pilate’s headquarters to the Place of the Skull to the new tomb in which no one had ever been laid
In the cacophony of “Crucify him” and “Hail, King of the Jews”
In the barren emptiness of “I am thirsty” and “It is finished”
It is difficult to know how to make sense of this day.
I know the different ways scripture makes sense of Jesus’ death. I understand the various interpretations of Jesus’ crucifixion and death from theologians spanning two thousand years. I am familiar with our worship pattern for this day. Despite all this knowledge, this year, none of it is helping me make sense of the day. This year, I am hanging onto a poem by Audre Lorde. Her Litany for Survival has filled my brain, my soul, my being for the past week as I’ve contemplated what to say today. As a self-identified black lesbian feminist whose adult life spanned the 1960s, 70s, and 80s before an early death from breast cancer in the early 90s, Audre lived on the edge of survival, at least by what we can tell from her poetry. And in a Litany for Survival, she clarifies for herself and all those who live in that same scary place: We were never meant to survive.
Her words “we were never meant to survive” give me pause. We hang on for dear life, don’t we? We work and work and work to avoid death. We pretend—and convincingly so—that death is not a part of life. But we were never meant to survive. Our bodies do not last forever. Death is a part of life.
On this day when we quite rightly mourn Jesus’ death, when we mourn the violence of the world, when we mourn the brokenness of a world that puts an innocent man to death, we remember: We were never meant to survive. Jesus was never meant to survive. Humans are not meant to survive.
Does this drive us to despair? For Audre Lorde, for me, for Jesus, it does the very opposite. We were never meant to survive, and Jesus was never meant to survive. And because we are not, all the energy we spent hanging onto life, we can now expend in living. “We were never meant to survive” is a reminder that survival is not the thing for which we were created, and mere survival was not God’s mission in the incarnation.
On Good Friday, we stand at the cross with Jesus, and as we look back over his life, we remember him in a life-changing conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well, healing myriads of people, bringing sight to a blind man, feeding people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread, releasing a woman caught in adultery from condemnation, calling disciples to love one another as he had loved them, weeping at Lazarus’ death and then raising him to life, and washing the feet of the disciples. We remember a man whose life, all along, was in danger, whose teaching contradicted that of the religious authorities, whose identify as king challenged the sitting king Caesar. Jesus’ mere survival was not the point of the incarnation but the entirety of his life, a living, breathing, walking manifestation of love. He was never meant to survive, and indeed, he did not because Love like this dies an agonizing death in our world.
On this Good Friday, we realize a startling truth: that to follow Jesus means to follow him into Love and that may mean following him into death. If we are not literally persecuted for loving God and others above all other goals, then we certainly die to selfish gain. Call me radical if you will, but the One who became flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth calls us to live filled with that same grace and truth. It is not a call to mere survival but to a fullness of life that has nothing to do with wealth and possessions and everything to do with love.
The death of Jesus is a tragedy, yes, but it is the consequence of him fulfilling the mission God had for him. He lived and loved fully, and in so doing, he died. He would have died regardless, and so will we, no matter what we do. We will die someday. In the meantime, our mere survival is not as important as living with grace and truth.
As Audre Lorde writes in a Litany of Survival:
For those of us who live at the shoreline
Standing upon the constant edges of decision
Crucial and alone
For those of us who cannot indulge
The passing dreams of choice
Who love in doorways coming and going
In the hours between dawns
Looking inward and outward
At once before and after
Seeking a now that can breed
Like bread in our children’s mouths
So their dreams will not reflect
The death of ours;
For those of us
Who were imprinted with fear
Like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
Learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
For by this weapon
This illusion of some safety to be found
The heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
This instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
It might not remain
When the sun sets we are afraid
It might not rise in the morning
When our stomachs are full we are afraid
When our stomachs are empty we are afraid
We may never eat again
When we are loved we are afraid
Love will vanish
When we are alone we are afraid
Love will never return
And when we speak we are afraid
Our words will not be heard
But when we are silent
We are still afraid
So it is better to speak
We were never meant to survive.
Even though we may be afraid as we face Good Friday, even though we may be afraid as we face the message that to live and love fully means we might be put to death, it is better to live and love fully because we were never meant to survive.