There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no Good Friday without Palm Sunday. There is no Sunday anytime without Easter Sunday. There is no Pentecost without the risen Christ. There is no point in celebrating Christmas; there is no Epiphany without the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross.
What is the world like without Good Friday? Are we still celebrating the slaughter of animals, slaves, criminals and gladiators in the coliseum? Are we still dowsing ourselves in the hot steaming blood of a bull slaughtered above us as we stand beneath a grate in a pit below – an elaborate initiation ritual to the Great Mother? Are we still a world of conquerors and slaves? Are we still a world like the one revealed by the excavation of a brothel on the Mediterranean coast that contained, in the sewer beneath, the bones of hundreds of infants?
If there is no Good Friday, no Easter, no resurrection of the dead, do we ever become a world that thinks of creation as the handiwork of God rather than the mystic realm of the spirits? Do we have mathematics (thanks to the Greeks) but no science? No flag on the moon? No Galileo or Newton, Einstein or Bohr? Are diseases still caused by demons and witches? Has there been no Mendeleyev, no antibiotics, no concept of genetics, no blood transfusion or transplants? Without Easter, there is no Christian faith, no triumph of the Biblical vision of a natural world.
And if there is no Maundy Thursday with the command to love one another – and no Easter to vindicate that preposterous idea – is there no hospital to care for the sick, no homes for orphans, no food pantries or Habitat for Humanity? Greek and Roman temples had no ministry to the poor.
If there is no Easter, there is no church; so is there no narrative to lead the civil rights movement in this country, or truth and reconciliation in South Africa? Greek and Roman temples had no message of social transformation.
If there is no Easter, where will the message come from that humans are God’s caretakers of the earth? Will there be no environmental movement? The slaughter of wild animals in the coliseum led to the extinction of many species. And who will cry out against the slaughter of the rhino and the elephant?
If there is no Easter Vigil, no paschal exodus from darkness into light, will there be the personal transformation of new birth? Will there be no Alcoholics Anonymous to witness to the possibility of new life freed from addiction?
If there is no Maundy Thursday, from where will the vision come of a world gathered around a single holy table? What voice will speak of peace? What community will seek justice for all rather than privilege for some?
What we do during these days from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday to Easter reflect truths that transform the world.
Yes there will be no crusades, but humanity has not had to rely on Christianity for religious wars. And yes there will be no inquisition, but humanity has not had to rely on Christians for torture. But what will become of truth and hope and justice and mercy? Will we remain a world governed only by power and wealth? It is hard to imagine – but nothing changed the world as it stumbled from one tyranny to the next until this strange God who met Moses, a flame in a bush that did not burn, claiming to be a God on the side of the slaves, a God of justice and compassion and the healing of the world.
The Jerusalem temple fell. And Jesus fell. But Jesus was raised. And his Spirit was poured out on his followers. And his life and teaching embodied the voice of the eternal God who led Israel into freedom. His life and teaching embodied the message of God who leads his creation into the realm of life. His life and teaching continues to percolate through our world, because the grave was empty. The stone rolled away. And the risen one is still in our midst.
These three days change the world. And they change us, conforming us to the image of Christ.
“O come, let us worship and bow down.” (Psalm 95:6)