Last evening, outside our window at the little viewpoint park across the street, a young couple spread their blanket and had a picnic. It is such a small and heavily used park (runners, walkers, dog walkers, photo snappers) that picnics are rare, which may be why it struck me. It was a simple scene, but somehow touching. When Linda and I were courting we picnicked a lot. We kept it up when we had kids, but those picnics necessarily became more complex affairs.
Seeing that young couple touched me. And we look for the touching, for the tender moment now, don’t we? And we share many of them via You Tube and Facebook. Fathers singing with precious, precocious daughters. Balcony serenades. Police line dancing for the benefit of shut-ins. Cats and dogs doing impossibly cute things.
And we celebrate ordinary heroes. Nurses and doctors on the front lines. All sorts of folks carrying on with jobs that make our daily life possible in these chastened times. They were always there. Now, we notice them. Now, we say, “thanks for your service,” and we mean it.
As we look for, and celebrate, the touching and the tender along comes Good Friday, which is neither. It is hard and harsh, brutal and offensive. And, it too, may be what we need.
For if we now want, understandably, to remind ourselves of all that is good and sweet in this life and of the decency of people, there is a risk that our antidote is sentimental. Too cute. Too touching. Too trivial to stand up in the face of such a scourge and the havoc it will yet wreck.
The writer, Flannery O’Connor, defined sentimentality as “an insistence on innocence.”
We have our own particular variety of that these days. There is a way of thinking that has become so common that it goes without notice. We divide the world into the victims and the victimizers. The oppressed and the oppressors. The good guys and the bad guys. We identity with the good guys, who may be the victims or those who come to their aid. We insist, in O’Connor’s words, on our “innocence.”
At the cross no one is innocent. There are no good guys. We like to think the world divides into the good and the bad, the victims and the victimizers. But the account that unfolds this day, Good Friday, pulls the curtain from that, from an insistence on our innocence.
When we think about sin, if we do (and many have come to the conclusion we ought not think about anything so negative, so guilt-inducing), we tend to define it as an act, a specific misdeed, an error of omission or commission. There is that. But in Scripture, sin is not only or even in the main, sins (plural). It is Sin. Capital “S” Sin. Singular. It is a condition. Again, O’Connor. “Sin is not something we commit, it is something we are in.” All of us.
Good Friday is not about Jesus as yet another victim in solidarity with the victims of this world, though it is now often presented that way. Jesus is God taking upon himself the burden, the power of Sin and its awful consequences. At the cross this power, Sin, our sin, is faced in all its depths and defeated. We are set free, delivered.
If you are pretty sure of your own goodness or innocence or wisdom or virtue, then you probably find this offensive. This idea that you need a deliverer. But if you know that the plague of Sin effects not some but all, you may dare to call this hideous day “Good.”