The women who had come with him from Galilee followed,
and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Luke 23:55, NRSV
Good Friday can be a confusing space for a people oriented toward redemption.
We are tempted to pay quick tribute to Good Friday only as a necessary stepping stone to Easter. The wilderness of Lent leaves us raw, eager, and ready. After forty days of fasting, we’re anxious for sunshine, lilies, and alleluias. We are people of the resurrection, and Easter is, after all, the day that changed everything.
But we have the benefit of hindsight.
For the actors who incarnated the passion story, it was not Easter, but Good Friday, that first turned the world upside down. According to the gospel writers, many of Jesus’ disciples were present to witness what seemed like the end as their leader died on a Roman cross.
Many stood at a distance. But some, including Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother, Mary, were close enough to hear his words from the cross. As he breathed his last and the chaos of angry crowds and shaking earth came to an end, the restless, anxious disciples were left with the raw question: What now?
Could the Kingdom Jesus promised become reality without him?
Would this identity mark them too for censure?
What Jesus’ followers experienced on the original Good Friday is what anthropologists call “liminality.”
Liminality is a place of uncertainty and disorientation, a turning point where nothing is clear and your very state of being hangs in the balance. In the liminal hours following the crucifixion, most of these disciples disappear from the story. It is not hard to imagine the attraction of locked doors and private rooms.
But not everyone retreated.
The women who stood at the foot of the cross are continuously present in the scenes following the crucifixion. In contrast to the others’ embattlement, their posture was one of sharpened restlessness. It drove them to follow Jesus’ body to the tomb and remain present watching as the stone was set in place, still wondering, no doubt, “what now?” They expected an answer — and they did not expect to find it through defensiveness and locked doors.
Three days later, of course, their restlessness was rewarded.
It was not John or Peter, but Mary Magdalene who first received both the news of resurrection and the first charge to preach the Gospel. Mary arrived confidently, beautifully on the other side of liminality, her identity not only intact, but transformed. These gifts were hers because of her restlessness, her refusal to retreat in the face of uncertainty. Instead, she actively pursued the Kingdom Jesus had promised, even when it looked very different than she had expected.
She was ready for Easter.
Do we share her readiness? We are in our own liminal moment — one of polarization, rapid social change, and apparent secularization. As individuals and as a Church, we have a choice, not unlike Mary’s, of how to position ourselves in uncertain times. Will we choose defensiveness, embattling ourselves against our perceived enemies, barricading ourselves against impurity and unfamiliarity? Or will we pursue Mary’s restless curiosity? Will we allow uncertainty to drive us toward the Kingdom with humility and generosity, hungry for redemption we haven’t yet imagined?
Unlike the women who stood at the foot of the cross, we have the clarity of context. We know what comes next. We know that Sunday brings resurrection. On Easter morning 2019, there will be colorful clothes, upbeat music, and joyful reunions with dessert, social media, and coffee as the weight of Lent is lifted off our shoulders.
But celebration without restlessness is pornographic. Good Friday only transforms us if we allow it to. More than simply positioning us to receive Easter, it offers formation for the seasons ahead. It suggests for us a third way: a redemptive path between defensive embattlement and stagnant complacency.