(Or: In Which I Unlock a Profound Life Achievement and Reference John Mulaney on Good Friday)
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
April 10, 2020
Good Friday, Year A
John Mulaney, the comedian, made a kids TV special and released it at Christmas. It’s surreal—like a more self-aware version of those kids shows from the 1970s—and it’s also oddly poignant. It features a series of interviews where he asks the kids what their greatest fear is—and the kids answer quite honestly. Everything from “the various horror movies of Jordan Peele” to “losing my family” to “drowning” to “being killed by a clown.”
Kids are, of course, scared of a lot. It’s a scary world for everyone, but for kids, it’s particularly scary, in a way that adults frequently forget. The primal fear of not understanding so much of what happens around you, yet also being very aware of your own powerlessness and dependency on others is a potent cocktail that makes for a lot of anxiety when you’re a kid.
Gradually, we age out of it. We paper over that innate sense of powerlessness with our knowledge and lives we build that we can control. But inside each of us, I think, there remains a quiet suspicion that the world is big and scary, and we are small humans, and we actually can’t control very much.
This pandemic for many of us has brought all that feeling back. Because, after all, here we have an enemy that we cannot see, cannot measure, cannot cajole, cannot buy off. We cannot control this virus; we can only avoid it, hope for the best, and wait it out. And all of the carefully-constructed world doesn’t seem to be able to offer much protection against a novel virus, as civilized as we thought we were. We are, again, small humans in a big scary world.
Good Friday, when we mark the death of Jesus on the cross, is a day when the church stares squarely into that big scary world. It’s the day that we remember that when God chose to become human, God didn’t flinch from the worst parts of our human experience. That God-incarnate experienced what it was to be abandoned, alone, and killed, unjustly. The creator of the universe became, like us for a moment in time—small, scared, and seemingly-powerless against the forces of evil and death. When Christ died on the cross, punished by a cruel empire, Christ felt the brunt of humanity. He felt what it was to be a small, lone human in a big, scary world. And he died.
And yet, we call this day Good, because we also know that death didn’t win. Evil didn’t have the final word. Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave. Though he most certainly died on the cross, even more certainly did God raise him from the dead. The big, cruel, scary world that seemed so overpowering actually was proven powerless, toothless, against the almighty love of God.
So, on this day, yes, we stare into the depths of the big scary world. We do that because on this day we know that God is bigger than any of them. That Jesus has already blazed a trail right through their heart. And that even when we feel most alone, most powerless, and most vulnerable, there is nothing that can truly harm us because God has already defeated anything that we had to fear. All the worst is over. God has won. God’s love has won. Our small fragile human selves are safe wrapped in God’s arms. And we need never fear the power of death again.