I made a last minute snap decision to go to the noon service today at Foundry UMC for Good Friday services. I attend Foundry because they’re one of the few UMCs in the city area that provide ASL interpreters for just about anything that there’s a request for. But, since I made this decision at the last minute, it was beyond the time frame needed to arrange for an interpreter.
In addition, I headed out the door this morning without my hearing aids, as I don’t really need them at Gallaudet, I tend to leave them behind…it’s very liberating to be able to do so. But as I was riding in toward Dupont Circle on the metro, I realized this would mean that there would be very little of the service that I would be able to hear. The hegemonic voice of the world which says worship is about hearing/receiving the sermon, readings, and songs had me weighing whether it was worth going again if there wasn’t accessibility to the service in place. I began to have that discouraged feeling that in a world made for people whose ears are different than mine, last minute decisions aren’t a luxury afforded to me.
Then the Deaf theologian in me popped up and asked, “Really Kirk, is the mystery of Good Friday any more accessible through ears and mouths? Really?”
And you know where that question leads…
So I went.
After all, I sort of know the story the service covers by now…and I can read and watch with my eyes. So while the rest were doing whatever they needed to do with their ears and mouths, I read the Lukan and Johannine accounts from the prayer in the garden to the laying in the tomb. Then when Rev. Dean Snyder lifted the flask of anointing oil for the ritual of forgiveness, it was a moment of pure visual attention, there simply were no words– and none were needed.
And so, I find myself deeply contemplative today. Far away in another time and place, where I should be on Good Friday. (Although that time and place is connected to the now as I tap out my thoughts on an iPad.)
What then is the mystery of Good Friday. I’ve never liked the traditional formation of atonement that requires violence to ensure salvation. Saying Jesus died for our sins implies that God exacts. Price from us because of our mistakes. How loving and just can a God be that sets up such a price?
Rather than traditional atonement as a ‘price that must be paid,’ I see Jesus on the cross as the image of sacrificial love par excellence. That is not to imply that sacrifice is necessary. But to say that Jesus is the prime example of a love so deep and abiding that you’re willing to die for someone. I love my parents enough to die for them and I’ve every reason to believe that they love me to the same degree. Fortunately, we’ve never had to make that decision to die for each other and neither should we ever have to find ourselves in that position in order to have that depth of love.
But being loved with that depth transforms how we live in this world. It provides a baseline and foundation for understanding what love truly is and can do. It doesn’t require us to actually have someone die on our behalf to achieve that transformation. There’s no actual violent blood price being demanded by God. Instead, there is an abiding and profound love being offered that shields us on the most devastating effects of the violence that is already out there in our world.
That’s the mystery of Good Friday I find myself reflecting upon in the silence of my communion with a congregation and God at the foot of the cross today.