Holy week is drawing to a dramatic close. The Gospel events bunch thick with significance, and it becomes difficult to distinguish their individual details. Like Seurat's famous "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" the details blur close up, yet from a distance the stipling of color reveals a broad panorama of redemption. First, the details...
- Jesus is stripped - top of the stairs to the right outside the entrance
- Jesus is nailed to the cross - upstairs just inside the entrance, at the Latin Calvary
- Jesus dies on the cross - Rock of Golgotha in the Greek Orthodox Calvary
- Jesus is taken down from the cross - statue of Our Lady of Sorrows next to the Latin Calvary
- Jesus is laid in the tomb - in the edicule on the main floor, inside the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre
All these actions are now commemorated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The gospels reflect this mass of activity, with nearly half of the book of Mark dedicated to Passion week, with Luke, Matthew and John close behind. Why such preoccupation with the events of the death of one solitary Palestinian day laborer?
It strikes me as particularly discordant in contemporary American culture. We rarely discuss death frankly and openly. We banish it to the margins of conversation, preferring to speak of health care (death management) plastic surgery (aging denial) or the eternal youth of celebrity. I wonder if the fear of death is behind the spate of "doctor shows" on TV; ER, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, even CSI, etc. Video docs become for us modern priests who dissect death, and discuss for us it's implications in sterile, safe confines of an operating room set. Yet Good Friday is all about the slow, inexorable drumbeat of death.
But before I too harshly judge my contemporaries, I remember that Jesus' friends were slow to accept his death as well. He predicts his own death three times, and was received with incredulity. Surely our predicament is not that bad. Surely death is not necessary. The teacher did not agree:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again
Good Friday reminds me that I am not good. Good Friday reminds me that something in me must die to become all Jesus wants for me. There is an inevitability to death that I can not escape. No denial or delay can overcome the finality of my own death--and unless I come to that great day prepared, I shall have no recourse. It is the death of Jesus that prepares me for my own death. It is the resurrection of Christ that assures me of life beyond. It is the death of Christ that speaks to me of the sin that so brazenly lives in my heart today. In visiting these final stations of the cross, I hear an invitation to look honestly at the face of sin in my own heart. And admit that death is the only option, no matter how extreme.