Continuing on in our 5 part series of a contemplative approach to Holy Week with kids, we turn now to some ideas for celebrating Good Friday.
For most millennial parents I would venture to say this liturgy encapsulates what is most problematic of dominant Christian theology, as it is very rare to encounter a church that observes this liturgy without a swampland of sacrificial “Jesus died for your sins” language. The origins of that transactional theology is in what we call “the atonement theory.” I think our growing collective instincts around this troubling and damaging perspective—and its inherent incompatibility with a loving, inclusive God—have increasingly awakened, and so if you’re someone who feels uncomfortable around that language and theory, you’re not alone!
It helps to recognize that 1) it is a theory (an idea that a dude named Anselm had at a time when feudalism was normal, and so he adopted that transactional view to make sense of God and Jesus that mimicked the domination and honor codes of his time) that became, unfortunately, widely adopted. When we discover where ideas and worldviews come from it allows for a little more breathing room to disagree. And when we do, we discover that, 2) there were other strands of our tradition that firmly disagreed with this view of “your sins put Jesus on the cross” perspective. If you would like to learn more about alternative views on the cross beyond atonement, check out this three week email series by Richard Rohr, “Another Way to See the Cross.”
I begin with that massive clarification because when I observe Good Friday with the kids, we have a decidedly different focus: if yesterday was a ritual to help us understand the radical inclusive nature of love, tonight’s observance of the crucifixion is all about what that love requires: the radical trust of letting go.
I have been a student of Cynthia Bourgeault for nearly a decade now, andThe Wisdom Jesus is the book I most often share with those looking for an introduction into her work. Her re-framing of Jesus in this book is so incredibly healing for anyone who (like me) might be suffering from an evangelical Jesus-is-my-boyfriend-lamb-who-shed-blood-for-me hangover.
Among the many profound insights in this book, Cynthia orients us to how Jesus operated in in his life to demonstrate how his death was a continuation of (not a disruption to) his ministry and example of what she describes as the “kenotic path”:
In Jesus everything hangs together around a single center of gravity, and you need to know what this center is before you can sense the subtle but cohesive power of the path he is laying out.
What name might we give to this center? The apostle Paul suggests the word kenosis. In Greek the verb kenosein means “to let go,” or “to empty oneself”…Paul recognizes that Jesus had only one “operational mode.” Everything he did, he did by self-emptying…In whatever life circumstance , Jesus always responded with the same motion…of descent: going lower, taking the lower place, not the higher…
Theologians have sometimes commented that…the effect of the kenotic path seems to be self-disclosure and new manifestation. The act of self-giving brings new realms into being. It shows what God is like in new and different ways. Some of the most intuitive theologians of our time say that this is how the world was created in the first place…The act of self-giving is simultaneously an act of self-communication; it allows something that was coiled and latent to manifest outwardly. “Letting go” (as in nonclinging, or self-emptying) is but a hair’s breadth away from “letting be,” and our Judeo-Christian tradition remembers it is through God’s original “Let there be…” that our visible world tumbled into existence…
Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us. There is nothing to be renounced or resisted. Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing. You let it go...And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, pour yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself. That’s the kenotic path in a nutshell. Very, very simple. It only costs everything.
With this contextual perspective in place, the ritual I’m going to share for tonight is all about “Falling fearlessly into love,” as the beautiful chant by Darlene Franz says…to have the courage to pour ourselves out, to give ourselves away in love, even to the point of death. We do this because Jesus shows us that this path of transformation—of letting go—can be trusted. Something new is born from our fiat, from our letting go.
I believe observing Good Friday is an opportunity to teach the kdis about the nature of how everything is created in this world: through friction, tension, suffering and letting go. For me it is much more important that they stabilize around the idea that spiritual growth comes with the package of uncertainty, unknowing, and having to let go of what was in order to make room for what could be. This—as we know—is hard, painful work! Its excruciating to move through the eye of the needle of love and transformation…and the sooner we orient toward embracing this as the path of new creation, the less we resist it as love prods us into becoming more whole, expansive, and free.
Being nature lovers as we are, we have used the seasons to illustrate this point that even when trees let go of their leaves there is new life ahead in spring. But our favorite metaphor for this kind of nonclining path of transformation is the butterfly. Here in Grand Rapids we have a yearly butterfly exhibit that comes to our botanical gardens…so the boys have grown up with a yearly pilgrimage right around Holy Week to learn about metamorphosis, caterpillars, chrysalis’, etc.
So to kick off our Friday night ritual, I tell them a story we made up about Carys the Catterpillar (the name Carys is welsh for “love”):
Once upon a time there was a caterpillar that had this “tug”, a deep longing and instinct for something more, something bigger, and more free than just being a tiny old caterpillar. Carys had been generally happy as a caterpillar, with all the other caterpillars in the tree…but one day she couldn’t ignore that inner tug anymore, and suddenly felt herself drawn to begin making something…something she couldn't explain (we would call it a chrysalis.) “What are you doing??” said all the other caterpillars. “what you’re doing is weird, that’s not what we do” they said. All the while Carys kept at making this thing that she felt more than understood. Pretty soon she was almost entirey surrounded by her chrysalis, and then eventually no one could see her anymore. Her friends all said she was dead, or maybe gone. But while she was in there, strange new friends visited her, and while she couldn’t see them…she could swear she heart the sounds of wings. Her new friends whispered to her to have courage, to trust what was happening…to let go into the change. “But what about my old life?” Said carys, “what if my caterpillar friends don’t like me afterward?” Sometimes she would hear a reply, sometimes it was long periods of silence. It was very dark, and very lonely inside the chrysalis…and sometimes Carys wondered if she had been right to follow that “tug”, that instinct toward something more, something free.
Eventually, after tryingto fight it for a while, she surrenders into the change…
And then Carys emerges as a butterfly with new wings. And she flutters about the tree waiting for her friend’s to become chyrsalis’ so she too can stop by and whisper to them about the gifts awaiting them on the other side of letting go, of dying to what-was so they could become something new.
We will pause after this to sing a few rounds of Darlene’s Chant, “Fall fearless into love.”
Then, we will talk about how Jesus died to one form in order to become the Christ. That just as he lived his life trying to welcome and include those who were most excluded, countering domination with love, so too did he die. Love is like that: it meets violence with non-violence, spaciously making room to engender something entirely new in our world…not through the visible means of our system, but through the ushering of a new paradigm, one that doesn’t play by the transactional rules of our world. Sometimes the systems of our world are so afraid of that kind of freedom and change that they squash, kill, or silence anyone who threatens “business as usual.”
Jesus was definitely a threat to business as usual in his time. Jesus was crucified because of his radical love…and true to his kenotic path, he embraced his own death willingly, emptying himself out completely so that love could be sown into the heart of the earth.
We will then read Luke 23:27–33, describing the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, singing a few more rounds of “Fall fearless into love” afterward.
Then, I invite us to each reflect on something that we are struggling with to accept, some way our heart is suffering, or something we are currently struggling with or want to let-go of in trust. It can be big or small…but I invite the kids ( I do it too!) to write it out on a strip of colored paper (one color per person).
Next we combine the butterfly imagery and the cross: using a cardboard or stick-made cross as “the tree” we roll up our paper and tape it shut, then tape it onto the cross like hanging chrysalis.
Then we pray, asking Jesus for help to walk the path of transformation that he lived…and to help us let go of what-has-been, to make room for the unknown what-could-be, even though it is scary, painful or uncertain. We also pray in remembrance for all those most impacted by the domination system of our world, the “crucified” in our midst, asking Jesus for the courage to live lives of radical healing, inclusion, and love for those most suffering in our world…even if it costs us everything.
In close we sing the “Fall fearless into love” chant a few more times before wrapping up with a bow. We leave the cross set up like this in the living room, as this prop will play a central role on Easter morning.
Props needed for tonight:
Some kind of cardboard or wooden cross
Scissors and tape
Props needed for tomorrow:
A room in your house that can be made very dark
Wishing you all a meaningful observance of Good Friday, as we all find a little more courage to move a little closer to Jesus’ example of falling fearlessly into love…