Dr Pangernungba Kechu
We are celebrating Good Friday in the context of a Global Lock-down. We are all too sure about the fact that the country wide lock-down in India is a difficult cross to be bearing. Unlike the multitudes, abuses, and shouts that dramatized the crucifixion of Jesus in the open spaces of Jerusalem, “social distancing” has kept all of us locked inside our homes. How should Christians celebrate and reflect meaningfully on the spiritual, political, and social significance of Good Friday in a context where we need to bear the cross of being locked-down?
Why would anybody care about a locked-down cross? Yes, because the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is ultimately a sign of God’s solidarity with humanity. Truly, if God were to identify with a humanity that is held captive by the fear of COVID-10 pandemic, our homes would have to make space for the Golgotha to take place. Perhaps, it is spiritually meaningful to employ the metaphor of a “locked-down cross of Golgotha” in our own homes in order to appreciate the meaning of Good Friday today.
Many of us would remember the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus: a) a crowd going out of control; b) the hegemonic narratives of the political and religious rulers; c) physical/verbal abuses and insults meted against Jesus; d) the pain of vulnerability and abandonment experienced by Jesus on the cross. This was followed by the spectre of death, silence, and trauma among the public.
Isn’t the story of Good Friday any different from the isolation, fear, and insecurities that we are experiencing? Should we say that the information about COVID-19 that hit us minute after minute make us even more helpless? Does the death-threat of COVID-19 envelope the entire humanity in darkness? Isn’t the entire humanity weeping? Fearing the pandemic, are some transforming their homes into a weeping and praying Gethsemane?
We are aware that the purpose of the lock-down is primarily for saving our families and nations from the novel Virus. Good Friday, on the other hand, is about a public event, the death of an innocent person named Jesus Christ for the redemption of the entire humanity and creation. Fear of death is a normal human feeling but we believe in a living and resurrected God who invites us to face the powers of death. The death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ show us that every believer can confront the worldly death and destruction with the power of the resurrected God. We go around assuring each other that Christians should not fear anything and put our trust in God. But how deep is our faith? Do we believe deep down in our hearts that our faith can really withstand the death-threat of COVID-19? This is the prophetic message of Good Friday that all believers must reclaim in a global situation that is stricken by the death-threat of COVID-19. The story of Good Friday helps us to wrestle boldly with human anxieties of death. God accompanies and suffers in the isolation that we are going through as individuals and families. Good Friday calls us to affirm that there is a bigger living force beyond the forces of death that weaken our trust in God and lead us often into temptation.
Genesis talks about the first act of “social distancing” in the scripture. Sin led Adam and Even to distance (hide) themselves from God. There is a direct connection between human sin and distancing in the Bible as well as in the Christian history. The people of Israel experienced oppression every time they went astray from God. Additionally, we see numerous examples of individuals and communities who are isolated, punished and called to repentance because of their wrong deeds.
Today, the entire humanity shares one fear: grief-stricken. The entire human population have been marked out and isolated. Where have we gone wrong that the entire human population have to be isolated, even the homeless? Isn’t this is a question that we should be wrestling with utmost sincerity? True, we are entangled in a web of inter-relationship. Greed, power, and selfishness has turned communities and nations from each other and perhaps this time of a global lock down offers us an opportunity to rethink the value of our interdependence with neighbours (far and near), the planet earth, and the shared-future that we collectively share with all these entities.
A key political implication of Good Friday is the restoration of estranged relationship which is caused by sin, mistrust, and worship of human idols. Indeed, the beautiful creation of God is starring at human beings, while we remain locked inside our homes. Developing his theological response to the current ecological crises, German theologian Jurgen Moltmann observes that human beings are a sick species, a pesticide for the earth. He even remarked that at this pace in which the ecological destruction is happening, the earth would survive but human beings would go extinct. He challenges the Christian community to rethink our understanding of sin and salvation in light of the ecological sin that human beings continue to commit. Is our act of playing God with nature and human bodies leading us to our own death and estrangement? As we celebrate Good Friday, should we use this time of lock-down to repent of our collective sins and the damage to we cause to God’s creation?
Christian witness does not have any meaning without the message of the cross: the abandoned, the crucified and the resurrected God. Centred on the crucifixion event, the memory and spiritual significance of Good Friday is being celebrated by Christians of various denominations in various forms and traditions. The “Cross of Jesus Christ” is the primary symbol and content of the Christian gospel. It is also the fundamental basis of the Church and Christian identity. Jesus equates discipleship with taking up of the cross (Matthew 6:24). For Apostle Paul, every genuine believer has to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). A key aspect of Good Friday involves the affirmation of the Lordship of Christ. And we need to ask what this means in the Naga context. What does it mean to be celebrating Good Friday in a Christian dominated state where tribalism, money and hypocrisy conditioned most of our thoughts and actions, including the churches?
Although, Passion Week is just a few days in chronological time, the celebration gives us the opportunity to remind ourselves that we are called to live out Good Friday and Easter Sunday “week after another until the end of time” (C. S. Song). The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can become effective in Christian life only when we bring our sins before the transforming power of the cross. Likewise, we would be following God half-heartedly if we do not engage in a life of continuous conversion and renewal that is made possible through the power of the resurrected Christ.
The message of Good Friday for believers is that, God, through his son Jesus Christ, suffers and bears together with us the burden of being locked-down. God invites us to search our hearts, seek forgiveness of our sins, and allow Jesus Christ to take away the fears that hold us captive. It calls believers to look beyond the death-threat of COVID-19 and open up our hearts and minds to the hope and promises of a resurrected and healed new life.
Let the celebration of Good Friday remind us that sin (of all kinds) isolate us from God and from each other. Isolation and any form of lock-down are against the will and spirit of God. He has made us to enjoy fellowship with him and with one another. Jesus Christ bridged the isolation and estranged relationship between God and humanity. Good Friday calls us to trust in God’s embrace as he seeks to reach out from the cross to gather and save everybody. Let us renew our faith in a living God who will never abandon us and keep us locked-down forever.
As we look toward Easter Sunday, let us trust in God’s power to help individuals and communities heal each other instead of passing on viruses. Let us rest assured of God’s presence during these dark times, holding on to the power of the locked-down cross of Golgotha in each of our lives and in our homes.
Dr Pangernungba Kechu is Professor of Society and Christian Ethics at the Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS), Bade, Dimapur. This reflection is the second in a series of articles written for the Holy Week by OTS faculty in partnership with The Morung Express