by Tamika Jancewicz
We have access to harmful, traumatic images everywhere it seems. We live in a time where victims of police brutality, unlawful detainment, and shootings can have their traumatic experiences shared across the internet within minutes of, and sometimes during, the actual occurrence. Often we either become desensitized and/or people share it over and over again, re-traumatizing victims and others who have experienced similar abuse. There are arguments for sharing these images and videos so that we can witness injustice upfront and personal, and denial is no longer an option. Then there are others who refuse to watch because it’s too painful to watch and they would rather us believe victims when they say it happened.
Good Friday comes every year, and every year it still bothers me that we call it good. We read the account of the crucifixion according to the book of John and the author consistently points us to the glorious moment of the cross. And when we get to this telling of Jesus’ arrest, abuse, and death, Jesus is ready. He tells those who come for him, “I am he,” and they freak out and fall backward. He speaks openly and without fear of his accusers, even after being struck in the face. He’s a bit snarky to Pilate, and he gets whipped, mocked, and publicly humiliated. Even when Pilate wants to set him free, his accusers say otherwise, and so he is constantly going back and forth to court without representation or any way to be acquitted. And through all of this, there’s no doubt or fear in his responses, he doesn’t back down because he’s been prepared for this moment. And each year, for many of us, we will come and leave in silence, it can be somber and thoughtful time, but as soon as we leave, we’re all ready for Easter. For most pastors, we’ll just be glad to have made it through Friday because it’s been a very long week and the week isn’t over. So, Good Friday could become another harmful, traumatic event to witness and then move on from.
But let’s not forget that there are traumatizing events all throughout this story, and not just with Jesus. Peter and the rest are all first-hand witnesses and that means trauma for them also. Think about Peter’s responses, do you think he meant to cut off the slave’s, Mal’chus’, ear (John 18.10). Maybe. But did that seem rational? And why Mal’chus? He was just as powerless as the rest of them at this moment. This is another indication of the trauma everyone is experiencing, and it’s all due to the hands of those in power. The high priests and officials keep their hands clean, while those who are in the margins, and some who are even property, endure physical harm. And Peter gets a bad reputation here for denying his association with Jesus but remember there’s one person he has to face here as well, a relative of Mal’chus’ (John 18.25). How would we expect him to respond differently?
Don’t be desensitized to the intricacies of this story of Jesus’ death. What happens to Jesus and those who witness it—including us— is traumatizing. Jesus doesn’t just get wrongfully accused. His body is abused, he is “handed over” over and over again throughout this account. In the gospel of John, Jesus is not a passive participant, but it doesn’t mean this isn’t dehumanizing. We have countless examples of victims who stood their ground despite the power dynamics they were up against but it does not make their arrest, or their treatment less dehumanizing. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be wrongfully arrested and accused, he suffered greatly. We should not skip over this fact, acknowledging the suffering and trauma, in this story, also acknowledges the human experiences of those who suffer even now. Taking our time to lament and stay present on Good Friday, admitting that what happened, no matter the final outcome, wasn’t so good. No one should have to suffer as Jesus did. Trauma is not entertaining, nor should we pretend it doesn’t have a lasting effect. This time, however, we’re not recalling Jesus’ story for the sake of re-traumatizing or to prove that Jesus is real.
This time, we’re allowing ourselves to grieve with Jesus. We’re grieving over the harm we still cause on the bodies of so many. We’re grieving that even though we know we can celebrate in two days, or even the following night—if we observe Easter vigil—because Jesus is alive, there are others who are not. And while we rejoice in the hope of the resurrection and being joined with Christ in his life, on this day, let’s give ourselves permission to not be so quick to move on. Let’s honor the lives of those whom Jesus suffered with on that cross. And in doing so, we see his wounds, we hear his final words, “It is finished,” and know that death does not ever have the last say.