Something extraordinary is happening on Friday: this year, the date of Good Friday is March 25th, which also is the traditional date of the annunciation and thus the date of Jesus' conception. [I like to think it occurred at the moment of Mary's "yes" to God.] I'm unduly excited about this, because I am a theology nerd, of course, but even more than that, because soteriology is really my thing, and I love thinking about the "how" of salvation and what it all continues to mean for the world and for humanity today. And, for someone who is interested in salvation, Friday is like the ultimate "two-for": not only do we commemorate the crucifixion, the night Jesus willingly suffered death for our sake, entering into the depths of human experience--even hell itself--to rescue us and reconcile us forever with God; but it also is the day that God chose to unite Godself to us--to the whole creation--bringing the whole world into God's very being, and infusing the very "stuff" of creation--every corner--with God's presence. I mean really, it just doesn't get any better than that.
Too often, in Christian thought, we tend to isolate the cross--focusing on that one moment in Jesus' life, as though it is only that moment that saves us, as though all the rest doesn't matter. That is not only simply theologically incorrect, but it also is dangerous; as many feminist scholars [and others] have pointed out, a single-minded focus on the cross suggests that the most important, the most salvific thing about Jesus is his suffering, his sacrifice, and his agonizing death. And, if that is the case, then maybe for us too, the most important thing we can do as followers of Christ is to suffer, to sacrifice, and even to die. Now, to be clear, I've got no quarrel with Christian martyrs here: their witness is a powerful one, and their faithful courage is to be admired. But let's be clear: all suffering isn't Christian suffering; all sacrifice doesn't lead to redemption; and all death is not willingly chosen. One death was enough.
Therefore, it's wonderful to have the opportunity to remind ourselves on Good Friday that Jesus did not just die, he also lived--and what a life it was! He changed everyone's understanding of what it means to be human: whom we're called to love, how we're called to live, and what the face of God--in whose image we are created--really looks like. His life is just as salvific as his death; and in some ways, the moment when the world was changed forever was not the moment when he gave up his spirit, but when his spirit entered Mary. Is it more extraordinary that God experienced a human death, or that God became human at all? Surely, in any understanding of salvation, they must go together. It's a wonderful paradox, and the juxtaposition of Good Friday, March 25th is irresistible. I can't wait to see what Mark Oldenburg does with it in chapel on Friday.
There is a poem by John Donne titled, "Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608." In it, he writes, "This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown Death and conception in mankind is one;" and Donne reflects upon this "joining" through Mary's eyes, Mary who, "At almost fifty and scarce fifteen" has seen "At once a Son is promised to her, and gone." Today, Donne says, "My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away."
So for us, too: in one day, we experience Christ's beginning and his ending, and in the bookends, we call to mind all that lies in between as well.
After this occurrence, it won't happen again until next century. I plan to savory it--really--for all it reveals about the fullness of what God has done for the whole wide, wonderful world--and for me--in Jesus Christ.