For most of my life, I didn’t understand the importance of the crucified Christ. I mean, I got the salvation piece of it, the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus was a sacrifice for our sins and through that act, all people were forgiven (as much as anyone can understand that). What I didn’t understand was why anyone would want to dwell on the crucifixion, why the crucified Christ is what hangs in Catholic churches and is depicted in so much artwork. It was, as the Bishop George Carlin says in Dogma, “so depressing.” What is so good about Good Friday? I would wonder. It is about death and suffering. Jesus died. That’s awful. I wanted to skip ahead to Sunday — I wanted to get to the happy part without the rest of the stuff in between.
Then I had the privilege of traveling to Guatemala. I spent two weeks travelling with Witness for Peace, bearing witness to the tragedy, violence and pain of the 36 year war there. Our group met with people from a village called Rio Negro. The World Bank wanted to dam the river they lived on. The people refused to move. Over the course of a few weeks, 440 people were slaughtered. Men were massacred in the church. Women and children were marched up a hill and killed in unspeakable ways. The members of the village that survived were relocated to a plot of land right across the street from the very military officers who ruthlessly killed their family members. The farmland the government “gave” them was hours away by bus, leading to a lifetime of poverty for a people already starving.
We met a man who was going to testify against the military officers who he watched kill his family. He had to travel with an accompanier because of the threats on his life.
We visited the Guatemala City graveyard, where those who are poor rent graves until they can no longer afford them — then the bodies are thrown out. The rich have tombs that have electricity and running water. Immediately behind these tombs lies the Guatemala City dump where people live and die with less material wealth than those buried in the grand tombs.
We went to the reclamation project — a group of people dedicated to unearthing and identifying the victims of the massacres and disappearances in Guatemala. They did their work in a house that was wall to wall boxes of bones. Out by the pool lay shoes, hats and clothing of massacre victims. Many of these people will never be named, their families never totally sure what happened to them after the policia or the military came to take them away.
It was there, among the people of Guatemala, that I understood the importance of the crucified Christ. I sat down on the steps of a chapel and it all became crystal clear. People must know that Christ suffered. That is what we share with God. God shared in our pain. God knows what it is like to hunger for both food and justice. God knows what it is like to be persecuted for speaking out, what it is like to be tortured, what it is like to suffer and what it is like to die. God knows. God understands. God takes it on himself.
Christ was crucified with the people of Rio Negro 34 year ago. Christ is crucified with the people in Syria, the Congo, Afghanistan and anywhere and every else there is war and famine. Christ is crucified every day, with us, with our pain and our suffering. God is with us every day as we weep and gnash our teeth.
But this is not the end of the story. The story doesn’t end with pain and misery. It doesn’t end with anger and exile. The story continues. But that is on Sunday. Today, Friday, we sit in the suffering. We remember the suffering of Christ and of all of the people who have suffered and are suffering. We remember. We pray. We love. We hurt. And then we wait. Because Sunday is coming.
The Lords Prayer from Guatemala by Julia Esquivel — Read this. Fair warning, it will probably make you cry. In fact, I hope it does. Because it is still Friday.