Saturday, April 11, 2009

WWJTofGFV? or What Would Jesus Think of Good Friday Vigils?

Whew! I thought I'd never get to this point---Good Friday behind me, Easter sermon completed if not polished, rehearsals up the wazoo, meetings, phone calls, brochure contributions, obligations of all sorts, plus taking time out for some essential moments of fun. But here I am with enough time before the North End Koffee Klatch (a combination of obligation and fun) to write an actual blog post.

Of course, it's going to be about the things that I've been doing the past several days and the thoughts they've brought to mind, but that's okay. I feel like I've been behind the eight-ball ever since our ministers' retreat last week. Part of that was the computer breakdown but it was also a stretch of pesky back pain that made it hard to sit in a chair for very long.

The sermon has been hard fought this week. My preparations for the Good Friday service put me in a frame of mind that was hard to shake. A traditional Good Friday service, which is what I was preparing for, is mostly blood and guts because of the importance of understanding Jesus' agony on the cross. It's essential to traditional Christianity that sinners know just how hard-won their salvation is.

But I don't really come from that perspective any more. In fact, I'm not sure it ever really spoke to me. This morning I took one of those ubiquitous Facebook quizzes, entitled "What does Jesus think of you" or some such, and it turns out that, according to my answers, Jesus thinks I'm boring, too straight-arrow to be interesting. Guess I'd probably be one of those law-abiding Jews who is nice to people, even Romans, and not always flipping God off with my rebellious behavior.

But the Good Friday experience reminded me that my religious faith seeks joy, not anguish. It's not that we avoid grief at all costs, but we are always aware that grief brings its lessons and that the outcome of those lessons can be joy. Good Friday reflections tend to be a wallowing in grief and vicarious agony and I'm not sure that's a good thing.

In "Saving Paradise", by Rebecca Parker and Rita Brock, the point is made that early Christians were much more into joy and beauty than into reliving Jesus' death on the cross. Maybe it was the disappointment that Jesus had not yet returned that drove early Christian priests and bishops to revise the emphasis from Paradise on earth to Paradise after death. I haven't yet gotten to that point in the book (boy, it's really a dense, long book!) but I can theorize.

According to their research, Jesus was only pictured in joyous mode, surrounded by beauty and happiness up until the 10th century or so. That's when his corpse began to be part of the picture and Paradise seemed to take a back seat to blood and pain.

My Christian colleagues with whom I was presenting the GF vigil did a fine job with their reflections, not dwelling on the agony any more than necessary, but it's always there, behind the Easter optimism, in the tone and tune of the dirge-like hymns and solemn faces in the congregation.

I'm not saying this approach is wrong for anyone else, but it is for me. The more I experience of other faiths, the more grateful I am that I discovered Unitarian Universalism in 1966. It was a good fit from the get-go. Of course, it's probably telling that if Facebook had a quiz entitled "What Broadway Musical song are you?", mine would probably be "Cockeyed Optimist".


LinguistFriend said...

I have to get and read the Parker and Brock book. The more I hear about it, the more interest it appears to have.
It can be very difficult to deal with a previous religion. I am certain that your participation in such an activity as the Good Friday service is productive to consolidate your standing among local ministerial colleagues. But I read in your comments that it must be awkward in that one wants to be able to participate and give respect to one's own past, at the same time as remaining faithful to one's current convictions, so it forces some careful reconsideration of issues and how exactly one can participate.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your perception, LF, it's right on.

Mile High Pixie said...

This reminds me of the bit by the late comic Bill Hicks. He used to say, "Do you think Jesus really wants to see a crucifix when He gets back? That's like wearing a rifle pendant in front of Jackie Onaissis: 'just thinkin' of John, Jackie!'"

ms. kitty said...

What a great remark, Pixie, and how apt!