That this day should be called “good” isn’t obvious or clear. If this day is good it is not in the events commemorated, but in what God is doing, and the pulling aside the veil of the systems of power and domination. But also, it is that the events commemorated on this day don’t stand alone. The goodness of this day is that liturgically we aren’t simply caught in death and oppression. In fact later today, I will proclaim with many others in song and in reverencing a representation of the cross, that what the powerful and what the system of domination intended as death dealing is turned into, by God’s act and grace, something life giving. Liturgically we live between horror and hope on this day. What is good isn’t the violence dealt out, but God’s identification with humanity in defiance of that violence, exposing that empire and law are bound up in death.
The playlist opens with what the Maundy Thursday playlist ended. This reflects that the Three Days or Triduum is a continuous three day liturgy of Christ’s passion. The nervous energy becomes more subdued and focused. A melancholy rejection of oppression, violence and the madness of the world. Of course at the center of this day is an execution, and fittingly Nick Caves Mercy Seat sits at the center of the playlist. Here, I chose a song that has the most direct and literal associations to the theme of this day. The title of the song is a name for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant which sat in the Holy of Holies in the ancient Israelite temple. Since the Holy of Holies was only entered on the day of Atonement and only by the High Priest, the mercy seat is associated with the theology and ideas of atonement. Cave has the voice of the person to be executed make not only specific allusions to Jesus’ crucifixion but even identifies his execution with that of Jesus. In listening to it today I heard also, a reference to those “thieves” or “bandits” who were crucified with Jesus and the “thief” to whom Jesus’ says “This day you will be with me in paradise.” The question of guilt or innocence has been abandoned by the one being executed and faces his death not unlike the “thief” who chides his compatriot saying that they, unlike Jesus, aren’t innocent. Scholars are largely in agreement that those two theives or bandits were most likely Zealots or members of Jewish resistance who used violence and brigandage in their opposition and defiance of the Roman occupation.
From the point of execution and the defiance and acceptance of fate, we enter death. Death is the reality we face on this day not in despondency (though for Jesus disciples, this moment was a deep confusion and darkness) but in anticipation. Even so, Jesus actually dies. Here is the death of God, this we can’t avoid. We human beings, human systems of power and domination, killed God. Thus, Today is also a day of repentance, of reflecting on the small and large ways take the side of Death, Empire, distorted religious power, and violence. We repent because we know the love of Maundy Thursday and we know the end of the story. Yet, we also sit with the pain, the violence and our complicity with oppression and the degradation of others, whom God created and loves. That is our sinfulness and our mad mad world. We face too that we will all face death. What that death will be for us and what we will find in it, in part has to do with what we do with the tensions of Good Friday. Are we willing to sit within this space, or if we do we rush to triumph without pain.
There’s a heaviness as I finish listening. We are in a wilderness, from here (even though I know to expect the dawn) the darkness overwhelms. The grief and pain of this mad world of ours washes over me and engulfs me.
What is difficulty of this day?
What did you hear in this playlist? What are the resonances?
Are you lead to turn aside from certain things, to allow yourself to be transformed by the reality of this day and liturgical observance?