“C&E Christians.” That’s the dismissive abbreviation for churchgoers who show up but twice a year. They come for what Jewish friends might call our high holy days of Christmas and Easter.
Folks who come to church weekly or more may have a hard time understanding their less punctilious brethren. If church is worth going to at all, they assume, it’s because worship gives meaning and structure to our lives.
The Sabbath has receded to almost nothing these days, no longer halting fire or commerce. Still, they believe that hour or two on Sunday morning is all important.
I get that. I also get why people who only come out twice a year still come out.
Christmas and Easter represent the birth and the rebirth of God, first from the Virgin, then from the tomb. Churches roll out the red carpet, with lots of pageantry and actual pageants. If you believe that the Christian religion is true or even admirable, why wouldn’t you come out for that?
The Christian holy day I am drawn to is the darkest one: Good Friday. To call it good is almost offensive, though I’m told the Poles do us English speakers one better by calling it Great Friday.
It wasn’t hard to picture Greek, Roman, and other gods as men. Jews believed not in a panoply of gods, but only one invisible God, before and above all creation. To say that God had become a man was a scandal. But then to have that one-true-God-as-man die, well, that really does shock the system.
Many heresies maintained either that God had only taken on the vague form, or illusion, of a man. Others said he hadn’t really died, because… how is that possible?
Yet one thing that theologian and historian alike agree upon about Jesus Christ was that he really died. He was put to death under Roman rule by crucifixion. The cross was a truly barbaric tool of execution. It married public disgrace, mutilation, and slow suffocation.
His real and painful crucifixion was accompanied by what seemed to be real doubt. We know from reading that dangerous atheist tract known as the Bible. Jesus saw what was coming and dreaded it. At times on the cross, he was utterly tormented, almost beside himself.
And then he died.
It’s the saddest, bleakest story ever told.
It also answers the most important question one can ask about God.
Not, “Does God exist?” We are here despite all odds. Either it was the greatest coincidence ever, or there is a God.
The question people actually wrestle with is, “Is God a bastard?”
The Christian answer to that question is Jesus. According to our story, God not only condescended to become a man, he also died and died horribly. Why? Because that was the only way he could fix things.
He was the guy in the movie who gives up his life preserver to save you. In this case “you” is, potentially, the whole world.