On the surface, the two don’t seem to have many similarities. Earth Day is a political and environmental event which has become a “earthday party” of sorts for the earth. We celebrate our good planet, work to clean it up, and use the day to bring awareness about the important work that can be done for preservation and protection of the earth itself as well as our future on it. Good Friday is a yearly remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ, a religious remembrance of significance to Christians, but not to every American. Believers go to church or at the least have moments of grief and remembrance about Christ’s violent death.
As someone who yearns for both environmental and spiritual well-being; whose heart and living has been touched deeply by this person, Jesus, as well accepted a growing commitment to live on and love this earth well, I feel some kinship with both events. And, in fact, am conflicted about which is more important to remember.
Honestly, I don’t really like the whole “Jesus dieing on a cross” part of the story. Not only because it is gross and distasteful and has often been blamed on Jews, though that all makes me crazy too. But truly, I don’t hold to the belief that it was part of the plan from the beginning. I think of it more as a “Plan B” for Jesus. I don’t believe it HAD to be that way – as some assert. I know this doesn’t win me any points with the main stream or conservative crowd. But, it is honest. Jesus could have died of old age and it would have been theologically significant enough for me. Far too much has been written about soteriology and blood – stemming mostly from a medieval reading of texts. For me, there is nothing beautiful about a blood sacrifice of anything. I can appreciate the symbolism of it in ancient times – but it just does not fit with what I have known and experienced of God.
What I do “get” about the whole thing is that sacrifice is necessary for change. Poet/Musician/folk icon Bruce Cockburn says, “nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight… you gotta kick at the darkness til it bleeds day light.” Gaylord Nelson, the instigator of Earth Day, understood that, as does every political activist I have any respect for.
Earth Day is a great example of this. When Senator Nelson began his campaign, it took 7 years of advocacy to create one day. And, as the movement evolved, it required more of people. In particular, it required people to connect with others working on parallel issues. Chemicals. Water preservation. Wild Life. Clean Air. They had to give up competing for funds and priorities and start working together toward the greater good. That takes sacrifice – and humility, which doesn’t come easy for those of us who hop into bed with one particular issue. Part of the fight of Jesus was against political power and arrogance, much like the environmental struggle. Sacrificial love is not easy, as the Jesus story reminds us.
I am sure there are more parallels in the work itself, but the other piece that is in the forefront of my mind is this sense that a significant shift happens after a major event. Those who labored years for Earth Day better knew what the Jesus followers figured out later: that there was a “deeper magic” still to come, but I have no doubt that they felt a huge sense of “we did it!” when April 22, 1970 drew to a close. Seven long years came to fruition. There was some major celebrating going on. People were finally understanding!
The shift for those following Christ was a significant one. C.S. Lewis has this Jesus character in his Chronicles of Narnia that most of us know: Aslan. He’s a gorgeous, powerful, loving, but “not a tame lion”. In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, after Aslan has been killed at the stone table, all seems lost. I am sure that, for those who loved Jesus, his death was an conclusion – and a confusing one at that. No ousting of the Romans; no transformation of power; no Jesus the King. Nothing like that as they had expected. Where was that important shift their movement needed? All they had was a dieing body on a cross.
Fortunately for Jesus’ followers, what seemed like the conclusion was really the prologue. (Not that there haven’t been years of screwing up, Lord have mercy. But, that is one of the sad pieces of being human – no matter what we believe. We screw up. Hypocrisy is not a religious phenomenon, it is a human one.) But the movement had a major shift just two days later. It was the “Earth Day” of the Jesus story. The “deeper magic” of God was still to come.
So what might that deeper magic be? In 1990, 20 years after the first one, Earth Day went global. Can we hear an A-men there? People lived deeper into their work as earth-preservers and continued to try and figure out the best way to go about their work. I believe that some of that “deeper magic” is at work in this effort. I can imagine that this deeper magic had to do with the community that mobilized on that first Earth Day that spread the news that the earth was worth all of that sacrifice. And today, 2000 years later, people who follow Jesus continue to look for the best way to do their work. For them, that deeper magic had more to do with an overturning of what power is. The last shall be first. Blessed are the poor. Every church and society before and since has wrestled with the question of power. Come to find out, at least according to Jesus, power is in other things. Nonviolence. Service. The sacredness of each person. And more.
Good Friday and Earth Day. It feels like a good combination for me today. I think I will grab a garbage bag and clean up my neighborhood a bit — and when I remember that “Good Friday” – I will be remembering that the drama of death can lead to the deeper magic of life.