So this year I’ve been working on putting together the ‘alternative’ Good Friday service at Christ Church. I call it ‘alternative’ rather than ‘all age’ (its official title) because
(1) it draws more from alt worship resources / movements than children’s worship – to which ‘all age’ services unfortunately get simplified and
(2) it does aim to be, as a dear friend honoured me in labelling it, ‘a sort of communal midrash’ on some of the stations of the cross. Christians trying to do midrash is both thoroughly faithful to our Jewish origins and also a little nuts – which is kind of my functional definition of ‘alternative worship.’
But the all-age-ness is there, still. And, as I have been mentioning to many people, I’ve been struck anew with both the gruesomeness of crucifixion and with the problem of how on earth one is supposed to help children engage with such a crazy- scary thing. Can we ethically do so? Can we do so without crippling them emotionally? Can we do so without rushing through to ‘yay happy Easter Jesus is alive and it’s almost like no-one ever drove nails through his hands & feet!’ and robbing the death of God of its, well, death?
No easy answers to any of these. But as I mull over the four stations we’re moving through in this service – Simon of Cyrene, the weeping women, the soldiers, and the criminals on the other two crosses – it is encouraging to me that the stories can be approached from so many angles. It’s encouraging, as I’ve been planning something that’s fit for adults and children, engaging Christians new and old and disillusioned, to know that these stories are multifaceted, and that to faithfully read them is to expect them to speak differently to you and your community at successive readings.
For sensible reasons like clarity & length of the service, of course, co-ordinators of worship encourage a limited number interpretations on any given day. For us at Christ Church, I think there has been space for at least a few interpretations side by side. But in the mean time, here are few tidbits that didn’t make into the notes I’ve been scribbling for the stations…mostly because I returned to my notes after having prepared them and went, ‘whoa! how did I not see that before?’ (And hey – that phrase might be a good functional definition of the Holy Spirit.)
Simon of Cyrene
Dude had two kids according to Mark’s Gospel – I forgot about them! Were they there (when they crucified my Lord)?
Anybody know without GoogleMaps-ing it where Cyrene is? Anybody? That’s right: in Africa. Present-day Libya. Tradition has it as the ‘Athens of Africa’ due to a philosophic school there linked with one of Socrates’ disciples. Tradition also has it that Simon of Cyrene’s name is only worth including in the text because he went back to Cyrene after Jesus’ resurrection and became one of the first missionaries, and an African one at that.
The weeping women
Early today I posted an excellent video featuring Padraig O’Tuama and he offers an interesting reflection on Jesus & Veronica, slightly conflating her with the weeping women – look out for it. As my thoughts are all on weeping women these days with a dissertation on women, lament & theology before me, of course I find this ‘station’ fascinating. When Jesus said, ‘Don’t cry for me but for your children,’ was he simply alluding to a so-hot-it-might-catch-fire sort of political situation that would result in the revolts & uprisings in the 1st century CE and the destruction of the temple? Is this prophecy (Hosea 3, I think) box-ticking on the part of the writers/redactors of the text?
Or, like O’Tuama reflects, is Jesus simply calling them out on their wanting to vicariously deal with whatever’s troubling them without really getting at the heart of grief: a world that is badly broken, that is self-destructive, to the point at which its only salvation must subvert that destruction?
For all its cheesiness, the 1953 film ‘The Robe’ is SO worth watching. Marcellus Gallio, played by Richard Burton, is the soldier who happens to win Jesus’ robe at the crucifixion. The guilt and confusion he feels at crucifying an innocent man, then robbing his not-yet-cold body, causes him to rethink his entire life. This film is always in my head when I think of the crucifixion, probably because it provides some sort of medium for me to interact with the utter brutality of it all. What is worse, I always wonder: to associate with the hired killers, or with those in the Sanhedrin who contrived his death?
Ah, this story. How much we rely on it for our ideas about heaven, hell and everything in between. It sure sounds hopeful to hear, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise,’ doesn’t it? I guess what I return to again and again about this story is that this guy who asks Jesus to remember him is completely out of options – and yet he still recognizes something special about Jesus. I’ll assume this criminal was Jewish (likely, as he is in Jerusalem) and assume that Jewish views about the afterlife at this time were, under the influence of Hellenism, only just beginning to develop a concept of ‘heaven’ or ‘paradise.’ With these assumptions in mind, in referring to Jesus’ kingdom, this criminal was really going out on a limb in using Jesus’ own kingdom-language. Having heard Jesus & his followers speak about ‘the kingdom of God’ would have been the only way he could know to use it. And so, though it cannot possibly save his life, the criminal basically says, ‘Whatever that kingdom thing means; I want to be a part of it. Somehow. Even if I’m dead.’ Am I willing to say that? Are any of us?