I admit it: I really don’t like Good Friday.
What can I say? I talked about it a little bit in this blog, but the Passion of Christ horrifies me more than I can express. It is a nightmare that combines physical anguish with abject humiliation to such extremes that the very thought of it makes me tremble.
Even when I was veering away from Catholicism, split between Evangelical Christianity and doubt and nihilism that science and those studying science too often embrace, the Crucifixion horrified me more than I could express. To demonstrate: I was attending bible study at the Baptist group and they invited me around Easter time to a showing of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
I said no. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
But, at the same time, I was so frustrated that I couldn’t do it. After all, I was a strong woman! If I were strong, why couldn’t I face the Cross at all? It made me feel mad and helpless that I was having such a strange reaction, even in the middle of all my doubt. After all, if I were to look at it with the nihilistic lens, the Cross didn’t matter because nothing really mattered. If I were to look at it in the Christian lens, I should embrace the Cross, not hide away from it. Either way, hiding away from the Cross was a cowardly thing to do, and that bothered me.
So, after thinking it over, I decided that, while I couldn’t go to the movie showing, I could at least go to the Good Friday service at my local church. They would read the Passion narrative — not enact it — so I wouldn’t have to see the visuals of the Jesus dying on the Cross. And I could at least experience the Passion without having to emotionally affected by it.
…as if such a thing were possible!
Well, I went to the Good Friday service. They read the Passion narrative and, while it was difficult, I somehow managed to keep a straight face.
And then everyone lined up to kiss the Cross, and I lost it.
I don’t really remember the details of the long procession up to the cross, but I do remember that I was trembling. And I do remember the long walk back, after my kiss, where I raced to my place in the back pew, flung myself on a kneeler, and sobbed my eyes out.
And, while I felt very much broken at the moment, when I look back, I realize that this encounter with the Cross was a pivotal moment in my faith from which there was no turning back.
And so, I want to feature this artwork, because it reminds me of that awful, wonderful moment in which I came back to Christ and His Church:
When Sandro Botticelli made this artwork, a lot of things were going on at the time. There was a lot of turbulence and corruption within the Church (in fact, a few decades later, the Reformation would officially begin), the Renaissance was in full swing, and the social mores that previously governed society were loosened up to such an extent that people were worried about the degeneration of society as they knew it.
A Dominican preacher in Florence named Girolamo Savonarola preached about the end times that were surely coming and Florence would be rightly condemned. Sandro Botticelli, who was profoundly influenced by these sermons, reflected this in his artworks, including this piece, which shows images of the apocalypse freely mixed with the predominant image of the Crucifixion with the Penitent Mary Magdalene at Christ’s feet.
In this artwork, God the Father is overseeing the purification of Florence. In the background to Christ’s right, the city of Florence beams, a shining white city that has already been purified. To Christ’s left, smoke and chaos reign with arrows flying freely amidst the destruction. An angel, standing next to Christ’s left, raises his sword to kill the lion, which was the symbol of Florence. In the meantime, the Penitent Mary Magdalene clutches to the foot of the Cross, her eyes lifted up at Christ, even while a wolf slips away from her flowing robes.
While this was made a long time ago for a society that doesn’t even exist in the same way anymore, it still is a poignant work. After all, isn’t our society still turbulent? Doesn’t our society continue to push social mores so that we wonder if society will degenerate beyond all saving?
And yet, here we are, sinners who desperately cling to the Cross anyway, even while we see destruction all around us. Not that this makes us pure: even a wolf flees from Mary Magdalene. But, with the Cross, there is the promise and hope of salvation.
So, this Good Friday, if you are able to go, kiss that cross. And I pray that you may always cling to that sweet cross, no matter what.
Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.