Friday, April 2, 2010

Resurrecting Good Friday

Perhaps you have heard about the big controversy this week in Davenport, Iowa. The city administrator changed the name of Good Friday on the municipal calendar to Spring Holiday. He said he was following the recommendation of the chairman of the Civil Rights Commission. Apparently printing the name of the Christian holiday on the city calendar was a grievous violation of the separation of church and state.

All hell broke loose, or maybe it was heaven that was loosed. In any case, it came from the church people, who heard about it on Palm Sunday. Word spread through the pews like hellfire. The city leaders were inundated with phone calls from religious people who were upset with this latest expression of political correctness. Within days the city council voted to reverse the decision. Good Friday was resurrected. Just in time to ignore it.

The city workers in Davenport now have their day off restored to its proper Christian name. But will it make any difference? That is the problem with these campaigns to save our American religious heritage. Put Christ back in Christmas, save the town Christmas crèche, restore prayer to public schools, and all that stuff. I support the efforts. But I think it is mostly bluster.

Will the good municipal workers of Davenport flock to their local churches for three-hour midday Good Friday services? I doubt it. The truth is that "Spring Holiday" probably is better description of the meaning of the day for most people. I suspect that more city workers will be enjoying the nice spring weather today than darkening church doorways. Do Davenportans even know why this Friday is called good?

A recent survey by the Barna Group revealed that most Americans do not know the religious meaning of Easter Sunday, much less Good Friday! Only 42% of Americans could identify Easter as having anything to do with the resurrection of Jesus. What is even more disturbing is that only 54% of those who identified themselves as active churchgoers knew what Easter celebrated and only 55% of those who identified themselves as born again Christians! How many, do you think, have a clue about what Good Friday commemorates?

I am not suggesting that we all endure three hours of droning preachers reading ill-prepared sermons. Even as a pastor I have a hard time sitting through these homiletic marathons. For me Good Friday is more about private devotion than public worship. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, to quote Seinfeld.)

In any case I suggest that on this spring holy day we take enough time to ponder the cross deeply. This Friday is called Good for a good reason. It is the saddest greatest day in human history.

Artwork is "Pietà," 1476, by Carlo Crivelli.

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