“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” This phrase has been circulating widely on social media during Good Friday both in script and as a meme. I don’t know the origin of this saying, but Tony Campolo uses it as his signature message.
It is not a bad message. The final result of the story of Holy Week is the resurrection. This is the culminating point of God’s action on our behalf. It is the main theme of our Christian faith. Our hope for eternal life hinges on this event.
In our US American culture, however, it seems to me that we are too quick to skip to the resurrection story without remembering what Jesus had to go through in order to get to Sunday. Without the agony and suffering of Thursday night and Friday, there can be no Sunday. In my own Christian tradition, we only celebrated Resurrection Sunday, and had no other special services during Holy Week. Fortunately, this has been changing.
Ours is a culture that denies suffering and death. We do everything to ameliorate any mention of death, and try any means to avoid suffering and pain. Most of us fear the suffering leading to death more than death itself. We’d prefer being wiped out quickly in a car accident or heart attack than go through the messiness of the suffering that sometimes can be drawn out over months and years before death overcomes us. So we’d rather talk about resurrection than suffering and death.
|Statue of Jesus in a church in Guatemala|
In contrast, Holy Week celebrations in Latin America, especially among the Catholic faithful, focus on Good Friday. Pageants, parades, reenactments of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus proliferate. A year-long process of purification is necessary for anyone wanting to play the role of Jesus during Holy Week. The actor is flogged, a real crown of thorns is smashed on his head, and real blood flows from the back and forehead. Thousands of spectators line the streets to watch the spectacle, many weeping uncontrollably at the abuse and torture of Jesus. The groups of students who have witnessed these reenactments with me over the years are profoundly moved. They will never take Good Friday lightly again. They will not rush to get through it in order to get to Sunday.
Before seeing these reenactments first hand, I, like many people in my culture, mocked this extreme devotion as unnecessary fanaticism. But I think there is a reason for it. The majority of Latin Americans live lives of suffering and oppression. They identify with a God who suffers, a God who walked the path of suffering, oppression; even torture and death. This God fully understands their situation. They cannot deny their suffering, and death is always close by.
At my home congregation this Palm Sunday, we heard a wonderful sermon titled “The Plot Thickens.” The events leading up to Resurrection Sunday were delineated carefully, not mincing on the agony, pain or suffering. But a caveat had to be given; this is not the end, come back next Sunday to hear the rest of the story. So I was pleasantly surprised at our Tenebrae service. Progressively the seven candles were extinguished as the darkness of Good Friday and the grave loomed upon us. I was waiting for the caveat, “but Sunday is coming,” but it never came. The last words we heard at the service were sung: “were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” Silently, soberly, in deep grief and meditation, we left the sanctuary. Not a word was spoken. Many were wiping their eyes.
I believe that Latin Americans and US Americans could learn from each other and our celebrations of Holy Week. They could use a little more of the hope of the Resurrection, and we could use a little more understanding of the suffering of Good Friday. I’m glad my congregation left us momentarily groveling in the dark. It wasn’t as gruesome as the reenactments in Latin America, but the light of the Resurrection will be much brighter for us after meditating on the darkness of suffering and death.