On this day, Good Friday, Christians commemorate one moment of crucifixion two thousand years ago—but we also reflect on all the other moments of crucifixion that continue to take place in our world even today.
One moment of crucifixion this week was the bombing of a bus station and market outside Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. It is a moment of crucifixion whenever innocent people are killed, whenever violence tears apart our societies and brings grief and suffering in its wake. When I saw this picture, I thought of the women with Jesus at the cross reacting to his death sentence and execution.
I was in Nigeria in June 2011 when a similar bombing happened at Nigeria’s police headquarters in Abuja. I was well away from Abuja but what I remember so clearly about that time was how on edge everyone was afterwards. It’s understandable. These kinds of killings make us question what we think we know about our safety and security.
I particularly remember all the rumours I heard in church on the Sunday after the 2011 bombing. One rumour in particular was making everyone nervous: Boko Haram, the Islamist group thought to be behind the attacks, had tried but failed to bomb a church in the town of Enugu, not far north from where I was. Not only for me, but for everyone else, this brought the terror home in a deeply personal way: was our church next? Would we be the next victims? And if not us, what about friends and relatives at other churches in the region? I never actually learned if the the rumour of what had happened at Enugu had any truth to it but it had clearly done its job: everyone was on edge.
An environment like this, so shaped by such pervasive insecurity, shapes one’s approach to the gospel and to church. Some months back, when a Nigerian archbishop was kidnapped, I posted an excerpt of my book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, that reflects at greater length on how the Nigerian church is shaped by this context. In brief, however, people come to church looking for assurance, constancy, and steadfastness. They want to hear about a God who protects (when it seems no one else will) and who will defeat one’s enemies (when it seems no one else can). The result is a church that is about confidence, steadfastness, and fidelity to a particular interpretation of the Bible.
But what these holy days remind us is that this is not the only approach to crucifixion. Christ’s response to crucifixion was not to return as a vengeful, wrathful victim, seeking to inflict retribution on those who had wronged him. Rather, Christ’s response to crucifixion was to return to life as a forgiving, reconciling presence whose followers sought to create a new community that would include even those who had once put their leader to death.
Although the church makes the journey in a handful of days, it can take a long time to go from the crucifixion of Good Friday to the forgiveness of the risen Christ. Indeed, it is the journey of a lifetime. But it is the journey that all Christians are called to make, a journey that begins not in a place of strength but in a place of weakness and humility.
Crucifixions remain all around us in this world of ours. But Christians know that Good Friday is not the end of the story.
And that is good news.