We tend not to associate death with drama. Many deaths are in fact quite dramatic, but when we are in the immediacy of someone we love approaching the end of their life we experience, in the final moments, a soft intimacy the passion of which drama cannot capture. Perhaps my friend Josh who has studied both drama and theology will disagree (and this would be an interesting discussion). Death and drama are on the menu this evening because today is Good Friday, the Christian memorial of Christ’s suffering and death. Those familiar with the Roman Catholic liturgy of the Passion and the Veneration of the Cross will be aware of the high drama of the Church’s ancient memory of Jesus’ death, but this is a performance with which I have grown increasingly more uneasy.
Our ritual dramatisation, as a gorgeous piece of religious theatre, succeeds completely in re-telling the story in our communal re-living of the harrowing events. Christians are taken with their Lord on the way of the cross, from his trial before the procurator and the people to the inhuman brutality of his crucifixion, and to the heartbreak of his words: “It is accomplished.” The drama is accomplished; it is complete, it has told the whole story and the curtain can fall.
This closure is problematic. Reading into the text some twenty centuries later we note that the curtain does not in fact fall. It is torn in two. Before the curtain call of the resurrection the audience is granted a permanent visual of the stage after the show, and in this revelation nothing is hidden. It is this detail that convinces me that it is not accomplished. Its closure, I am persuaded, would be infinitely more fatal to our lives as Christians – as human beings – than the death we have been invited to witness. This would be so because even in the telling of the story the reality has not been ended, and our view of the unobscured stage demands that we pay attention to the continual unfolding of the drama of human suffering. In the ritual the hero did not die to complete the mystery of sorrow and loss, but to take his place in it – to be with us.
RPJ Opinion (@RPJblog) March 25, 2016
Good Friday then is not a looking back. It is not even a present re-living. Rather it is an invitation to watch and to continue our participation. Our childish question; “Why did no one help him?” must be asked again and again with fresh opportunity for us to answer that question in our words and actions. We are the answer to that question. I am uneasy with the drama because it attempts, albeit unconsciously, to end the play – to encapsulate everything, and so ensure the passivity of the audience. Suffering, and injustice, and death are the themes of the final act, and this act is far from over. Our response is not a meek, reflective Amen, but a willingness to stand with all those who suffer.