The German, poet, J.C.F. Holderlin, once commented on the sad mood of our age. “Now is the night of the world,” he asserted. “God has withdrawn, as the sun sets below the horizon.” His words speak of discouragement, lost innocence, deep tiredness and despairing realism. But they capture a mood, one not only felt in our time but felt every time God appears to die in our lives, the mood of Good Friday.
We live too close to the edges of good Friday. Too often the sun does seem to set and leave us alone, hopeless and helpless against the godless, the chaotic. The powers of death constantly surround us.
What are the powers of death? What killed Jesus and caused the darkness and death of Good Friday? Generally, when we attempt to answer that, we zero in on the visible forces which we hold responsible for war, injustice, racism and poverty. These deal death. These are the godless. They crucify Christ. However, when we actually begin to name government and military leaders and pinpoint the ideologies and multinational corporations which we hold responsible, we realize that the real powers that crucify Christ lie beneath all this. What killed Christ then, and kills him now, is joylessness, unchildlikeness, childlessness, cynicism, woundedness, jealousy and the rationalization, dishonesty and lying that we do to prevent ourselves from seeing and accepting our own joylessness. Holderlin was right. We are a joyless and sad people. Our sun is setting, our mood is heavy, too heavy.
I know that this is true of my own life and of the lives of many of those whose lives touch mine. There is too little joy in our lives. We are always so serious, intense, preoccupied, tired, jealous and angry at many things. In our lives, there is so little of the child (and, in fact, too few children). For most of us, the very word joy is considered as superficial. We associate it with empty celebrations, thoughtless chatter, charismatic highs and childish naiveté. Nobody ever quite dares express the equation, but, in the end, it is affirmed that to really understand, to be un-naive, is to be joyless. Happy people? Poor naive souls, if they really understood, they wouldn’t be happy! Joy is considered a naiveté, something mature persons eventually outgrow. If Good Friday can do anything for us this year, let us pray to God that it might help us see this, our joylessness, our non-admission of that, and the death that this deals. For it is precisely our refusal to admit our miserableness to ourselves, the refusal to see how sombre, preoccupied, angry and unchildlike we are, that makes us persons so capable of cynicism, but not of joy; of sneering, but not of laughing.
In our world, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, the phenomenon of laughter and play is too frequently considered a direct and disgusting insult to the realism and dignity of hell, that is, our own miserableness. It’s not that any of us want to be joyless. I remember as a child hating Good Friday, hating it because it meant fasting, being presented with images of a dying Christ, having to be sombre and having to abstain from play and celebration. The child in all of us still reacts the same way to Good Friday. In the end, we’d rather not have it. We hate it. None of us wants to be sombre and abstain from play and celebration. But as Holderlin says, and as our experience too frequently verifies, our sun does seem to be setting. We do appear ever more helpless to create community, to be joyful, to laugh and play as children. However, from this pain can come a new openness to healing. Our experience of godlessness, coldness, chaos and abandonment can create an awareness of the need for God. With Good Friday can begin the cry for Easter Sunday. As C.S. Lewis once said, there is only one difference between hell and purgatory, the admission of miserableness and need. Good Friday is an invitation for that admission.
If we can do that, if we can admit our joylessness and stop our pretenses, then Good Friday may have its day. Good Friday, godless Friday. Let the powers of death parade themselves as final. Let darkness have its hour. Death and darkness are not final. Way back when, they already had their day. Then the tomb opened, the unmovable moved. Death, like everything else, had had its 15 minutes of glory. Heaven turned hell to purgatory and then turned purgatory to heaven. Both the sun and the son rose again. There were alleluias that day. Darkness is always temporary, as is the suspension of play, celebration and joy.
O dark, black Friday, O feast of miserableness, O feast of hope, from your darkness may a new day emerge, may there be a new sunrise, new alleluias.