I just returned from our church’s Good Friday service where we acknowledged the death of Jesus on the cross, emptied the altar, snuffed out the Christ candle and left the building in silence. Every year we have this opportunity to look closely at death and suffering and try to make some kind of sense of it.
I’ve always been a rule follower. I was taught that if I would listen and obey, life would go smoothly. For the most part, as a child, this philosophy worked. The people who were making the rules for me, my parents and most teachers, loved me and had my best interest at heart. But when parents and teachers are not around and you are at the mercy of your peers, clearly drawn lines begin to blur. My eighth grade year found me in a new city and a new school. Junior high school is difficult enough and I had moved from a town of 200 residents to the suburbs of a fairly large city. To say the first few weeks on the school bus were bumpy is a gross understatement. I was the last person on and finding a seat was impossible. The only words I ever heard the bus driver say were “sit down!” So, in total compliance, I sat, on the floor. The behavior on that school bus was something like a mixture of Survivor and and Lord of the Flies. And I, living by the only philosophy I knew, absorbed it all. It was a long time before I learned how societal norms and institutional rules and regulations can be manipulated and hurt people for someone else’s gain and that sometimes breaking the rules is the right thing to do.
On Good Friday, we try to understand the system that was in place and we grapple for the nuggets of truth and discernment. And every single time the reality of that day takes me back a little. The ominous fact that Jesus was crucified because he didn’t toe the line and follow the prescribed rules of the system settles in upon me like a cold, dark cloud. He was beaten and killed because he clung to the truth that human dignity and justice are more important than following any man made rules and regulations put in place to control the masses. Jesus saw people differently. We see it time and time again in the downcast eyes of the women with whom he gently spoke. We see it in the fishermen and tax collectors. His message is always and forever that every outcast, every sad and lonely soul and every “filthy sinner” is worthy of God’s everlasting love. The world of Jesus was full of violence but he did not participate. I think it’s sometimes hard for us to understand how submersive his message was (although it may become easier in the near future). The idea of love and peace having power over retribution, retaliation and violence is a pretty wild idea, revolutionary.
Of course many laws and rules are put in place for the good of all. But laws and rules are also sometimes enacted as a means of oppression and injustice. It is up to us, as citizens of the world, to continue to question rules and laws that oppress and hurt people. We shouldn’t just assume that we should follow along. Let Jesus teach us. Let history teach us. Don’t let the suffering of people in the past go in vain. Remember the Holocaust. Remember slavery. Remember the crucifixion.
If only Rosa Parks would have followed the rules, or Susan B. Anthony, or Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela… Sometimes not following the rules is the right thing to do. Sometimes refusing to comply brings to light and affects change of practices that are steeped in injustice. People have paid a high price, even the ultimate cost of their lives for shining a light on oppression. Jesus did it. And he called his followers to pick up their own crosses and shine their own lights. Will we be brave enough?