Good Friday reflections during COVID-19 sheltering-in-place.
We missed our church’s Good Friday service on Zoom, which is hard for me. One of those important things for me. And I’ve been grateful to experience lots of significant moments of human contact and spiritual connection on Zoom. But it’s exactly the fact that everything happens on that channel, where my Zoom account has a default setting to “touch-up my appearance,” those same screens and devices, that led us away from the service tonight. We’re tired. Education, family check-ins, grocery shopping, dilly-dallying, urgently important messages, letters of pleading. All on the same screens.
Our own tiny Good Friday service consisted of a song, a reading, a moment of reflection. Given all the time on screens, the artificiality of that interface in which I keep squinting at the reality outside, of nurses showing up day after day in hospitals despite being quarantined from their kids, of families facing economic and emotional desperation even worse than their prior vulnerabilities, of blustering press conferences and a vast human toll of tragedy…. given all that time on screens, where appearances are so touched up and filtered, I was especially moved by this poetry:
“…no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him…” (Isa 53.2b)
Struck always by the paradox of “Good” Friday. I know American Christianity is often debilitated by an obsession with appearances of cleanness, purity, appropriateness. Those illusions keep us away from places where God, who is not fooled by outward appearances, really hangs out. At worst, our disgust compels us to participate in the most hateful forms of dehumanizing activity, the scornful loathing of beings in God’s beautiful image that twists what’s good into what’s ugly.
That’s the perpetually startling thing about Good Friday, the unsettling provocation of Jesus’ crucifixion: God dwelt in ugly. Plenty of people have quipped or marveled that we took a Roman instrument of publicly-shaming torture and execution for rebels and brigands and turned it into pieces of 24 karat jewelry. I’ve mocked it too (even as I’ve tried to pass off as cool wearing some hemp cross or something.) It’s ugly and it’s supposed to be. That was not only the oppressor’s intent. In the Christian episteme, it was God’s as well.
But I’m second-guessing my own mockery now. Maybe making that symbol of death into a venerated object of beauty is profoundly beautiful, and I’m the ignorant lout for laughing it off. Someone somewhere with simpler and sincerer faith than mine brushes the gold cross on their necklace as their hands reach out to comfort the sick, to reassure the prisoner, to clean an other’s human waste. That bit of worn symbolism, by their faith, reminds them that God, yes God, shows God’s self most in this Ugly.
The literature that has always shocked and then changed me most… The films and shows that have been most compelling and often most stirring… The performances of philosophy, the essays, the speeches… They did not always stay in the Ugly forever, but they always, always went there. They often stayed there for longer than we were comfortable, most of us who would ogle for a while at the unfortunate man on the cross, and then wander away to think about happier and more comforting things.