Since 2007 I have participated in three Mesoamerican Holy Week celebrations and re-enactments, one in Guatemala and two in Mexico. The high point of each of these celebrations was Good Friday and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The reverence and devotion displayed by the participants in the processionals and the enactments were admirable, as was the devotion of many people in the crowds watching the trial and crucifixion of Christ unfold. Resurrection Sunday is also celebrated, but it almost seems anticlimactic to the spectacle and ceremony of Good Friday.
At my church in US America, we celebrate a lovely Maundy Thursday service with a love feast, the Eucharist and foot washing. Then on Sunday we have a rousing Resurrection service with people joyfully proclaiming, “He is risen indeed!”
Many of my students find the Latin American emphasis on Good Friday “creepy.” They ask how Latinos tend to skip over Resurrection Sunday and glorify Jesus’ death. They should ask why we tend to skip over Good Friday. You cannot have Resurrection Sunday without Good Friday!
I think there are cultural reasons beyond the simple Catholic vs. Protestant/Evangelical explanations. Too many people in Latin America, the majority, live in what we would consider abject poverty. They have been oppressed and beaten down by giant empires from the North, and are at the mercy of economic systems that favor the rich. They suffer. In their suffering, they identify with a God who suffers. A God who became flesh and endured the suffering of a brutal of empire. This God walks with them. This God loves them and understands them. This God has compassion on them. Jesus looks down from the cross and says to them, “Today you are with me in Paradise.” Good Friday tells their story.
In contrast, most US Americans are pretty well off. We like to be number one. We like a God who triumphs, who overcomes odds and comes out on top. We like a God who beats up on the bad guy and wins. A hero. A God who was born in poverty but became rich by his own doing—a self-made man. We identify with a God like that. The God of the resurrection is the God of the “American Dream.” The “self-made man” has risen indeed! Resurrection Sunday tells our story.
Of course any serious reader of the scripture knows that both Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are important in the God’s plan of salvation. My Latin American friends could use a dose of the joy of the Resurrection. But US Americans need more than of a dose of Good Friday. God suffered. God died. We, however, avoid suffering at all costs and deny death. That’s why my students thought the reenactment of the crucifixion was “creepy.” Death may have lost its sting, but few of us want to face it. Without death, there cannot be a resurrection. For a healthy Holy Week, we need both Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.