I’m not really supposed to say that these days, even (some might argue especially) on Good Friday, because apparently it’s not a very comfortable idea. Most modern churches suggest (with a certain degree of merit, I’ll concede) that we shouldn’t aim to be religious, but that we should aim to be loving, faithful and spirit-filled and evangelical. But not religious.
Religion, they tell me, is just a bunch of rules from traditions that just want to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. And that’s not what Christianity is about, they tell me. So I really shouldn’t be religious.
Bollocks to that. I’m religious and I’m proud of it. I’m all in favour of telling the establishment where to get off, and I’m the last person you want to try and boss around, but I have absolutely no qualms in calling myself religious. Possibly that is simply because they told me not to, and I have a pathological compulsion to not do what I’m told, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking today, and I’ve decided it’s more than that.
I get into a very loving and well-intentioned argument with people from my church every year because, for reasons I don’t really understand (I’m certainly not going to use words like “laziness” or “ignorance”) we don’t run a Good Friday church service. My argument usually starts out with something like “Of course we have to a have a Good Friday service, we’re freaking Christians. Who else is going to run it?”
The counter argument they come up with is usually something along the lines of “We’re not running one because we don’t really feel we have to. If we’re only doing it out of tradition, obligation and religion, then it’s better not to do it at all.”
I have a lot of respect for that line of argument, except that it’s completely wrong. Tradition and Religion don’t have to be some big scary institution telling us what to do (though unfortunately sometimes that does happen). At its most fundamental, religion is just the schema through which we all take our personal faiths and beliefs and share them corporately. And I don’t just mean corporately as a congregation, which I think is where I think "They" and I aren't quite connecting; I mean corporately in the sense of a world wide religion. It’s a way of unifying ourselves and strengthening one another through our common experiences. And on Good Friday it’s an opportunity to reflect on the Earth-shaking events that made that unity possible in the first place.
“Oh, but it’s just a personal thing. I don’t need to go to church, I just reflect on Good Friday at home with my hot-crossed buns.”
No matter how important we might imagine our individual selves to be, the celebration of Good Friday is bigger than any one person. We don’t just celebrate it as individual Christians. We don’t even celebrate it (or not, in our case) as individual churches. The crucifixion of Jesus is commemorated by Christians all over the world, and rightly so since it forms the foundation of our beliefs. As a world-wide movement, we should be marking events like Easter corporately, and setting them apart as important days.
And if that means I have to subscribe to the term ‘religion,’ then colour me religious. I go to church on Sundays to meet with other Christians. I only eat hot-crossed buns on Good Friday. I take my Christmas decorations down at Epiphany. I know what Epiphany is.
Do I have to do these things? Of course not. But by deliberately doing them I take my place in something much bigger than myself, and take a moment to consider that there might be something larger and more important than what the latest vision for our congregation of fifty people might be.
I mean there’s no point in just doing those things for their own sake. The sort of religion that just goes through the traditional motions and doesn’t actually love anyone is completely useless. But conversely, the sort of religion that is all very lovely but doesn’t actually do anything isn’t much good either. It’s no good trying to convince everyone how our lives have been transformed and we’ve been completely remade if we can’t even set ourselves apart for one day to celebrate it. That's why we have festivals and traditions. It's why we get married by ministers of religion. And it's why we go to church on Good Friday.
I'm religious. Deal with it.
Garry with 2 Rs