How do you speak of Good Friday?
We don’t really see Good Friday in terms of imagining it as a day when God died. To the contrary - we meditate and talk about the death of Jesus. In speaking of the death of Jesus on Friday, we – intentionally or not – acknowledge that the man from Nazareth died, but not God. God seemed to be absolved from any real suffering, let alone death.
Yet, a renowned German theologian Jürgen Moltmann reminds us, it wasn’t just a man from Nazareth that hung on the cross. It was Godself.
When the crucified Jesus is called the “image of the invisible God,” the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in his humanity. The nucleus of everything that Christian theology says about ‘God’ is to be found in this Christ event. “The Crucified God” pg.205
I know there is a temptation to see Good Friday through Easter Sunday. We know how the story ends. We know that Christ's death by crucifixion is closely followed by his resurrection. Our predisposed knowledge of Easter Sunday colours our understanding of the events that unfolded on Good Friday.
But the first disciples did not know any of this. They did not know how the story will end. They did not expect resurrection. They were in hiding, fearful of the authority that had killed their leader. They witnessed how the life of Jesus concluded in unbelievable pain, despair, and death, and they probably thought this was the end to his ministry. We call Good Friday "good" because we look backward at the crucifixion through the lens of Easter.
Good Friday invites us is to live in this moment. Can we step back into the shoes of the first disciples and imagine what they went through on that first Good Friday? Can we imagine their fear, doubt and despair? Can we grasp the grief they must have felt? With their leader dead and gone, they were sheep without a shepherd. They had every reason to doubt the divine provision.
The challenge of Good Friday is to reimagine this struggle, not just because of what it says about God, but also because of what it says about us and the life we are called to live as followers of a crucified God. Can we meditate on the fact that the Good Friday is the day God died? It would seem absurd to imagine the death of God. But if Jesus was the Word made flesh - the Logos - as the gospel of John claims, if he was the embodiment of God, then the suffering death of Jesus is also the suffering death of God. In Jesus God was crucified!
Let me end this reflection with a Parable of the Madman by a German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche, the son of a Lutheran minister. In 1882, Nietzsche pronounced, perhaps, for the first time that “God is dead”. The parable is as follows.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!" As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. "Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us?
With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto." Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves." It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered diverse churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: "what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?"
What is most interesting about this parable is that one would think that the death of God would be on the lips of the secular, enlightened humanist atheists. One would think that an atheist would be telling this to the churchgoers. But, far from it, Nietzsche did not have an atheist breaking the news to the pious religious believers that God is dead. That would be our expectation. Nietzsche reverses it. It’s the religious figure - labelled as madman - who is breaking the news to the secular, enlightened humanists about the death of God. This religious figure jumps into the midst like an Old Testament prophet would, declaring the death of God to the atheists of the day. He is addressing those who don’t believe in God, those who are doubtful about the existence of God. Maybe his message is plain and simple: “you have no idea what I have discovered, the God you don’t believe in does not exist.”