Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

Encountering Death on Good Friday – Plague Epistle IX


And with that, Jesus dies. Death surrounds us like we have never experienced and Good Friday strikes right to the heart. The single event of the Crucifixion overturned everything in the disciples’ lives. The communal event of this plague has overturned everything in our lives. Death does not become. It always is. Today of all days is the Day of Death. Let it be what it is.

We read stories of the sick dying alone, their loved ones unable to be with them during their last moments. Bodies have overwhelmed the morgues here in New York City. The dead are carefully wrapped in white shrouds and laid in refrigerated trucks. Funerals cannot be held. The process of grieving is upturned when the soil cannot be.

Each Good Friday, I write about abandonment and isolation. It’s my thing. It is not that I write despairingly, but that I always stare despair at its faceless face. I confront it and I am in relation to it. So far, I have had the luxury of distance reading the story of Good Friday. This year, the sorrow is real and overwhelming. Writing is real labor. It requires a kind of imagination, observation, perception, and conveyance that has taken on a new weight and effort. That bright darkness of death is louder, heavier.

We read the gospels, the psalms, the epistles and we read them for comfort and hope. And we take for granted their writing and transmission. As readers, we receive these texts and what’s more, we use them, we make them our own in our hearts and minds. These texts we keep returning to are relational.

Our encounter with death is just that: relational. We forget that we are in relation to death. And Good Friday for the Christian is the apex of that relation to and with death – except for their ultimate own. Because the death of Jesus never ends. We relate to it each and every year. There is repetition, but it is never quite the same. It is definitely not the same this year.

It’s not just a matter of confronting death. We confront the inevitability of our own death, the death of our loved ones, the death of a country, an idea, our ways of life. Death is oppositional, dialectical to life, yes. But when we confront Jesus on the Cross or Jesus confronts us, we encounter and experience an uncomfortable relationship with us and death – even the possibility of the suffering and death of God.

In abstraction and theory, the stakes are low. In earlier years, it is perhaps easier to pass through Good Friday to Easter. We gloss the pain and trauma and horror of death to pursue the promise of resurrection. We can posit the God-Man suffering, the disciples fleeing, the Romans gloating. This year, that is harder. Because the death of people is magnified. People are dying this very moment.

The laziness of Good Friday is to flip forward past that darkest Saturday to Easter Sunday. Some may call this laziness “expectation”. In earlier years we have been reassured. But if we ignore or lessen the suffering of the dying and the attending medical personnel and the loved ones separated for everyone’s basic survival, then we drain Good Friday of its importance.

Death is with us. And lingering death, at that. Death on a ventilator – or the lack of one. Do not let this day end easily. Hold tight, because it is holding tight to us. Do not despair. Today is the day we look death in its eyeless eye. And together we work to move the bodies to a place of rest and silence.

Descent from the Cross, Max Beckmann, 1917

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.


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