Mayor John Hamilton of Bloomington, Indiana has made news by changing the name of Good Friday to “Spring Holiday” and Columbus Day to “Fall Holiday.”
The first reflex of many Christians at the name change for “Good Friday” is to howl in protest. That impulse should be resisted. Our response instead should be to go back to our fundamental beliefs and see this change as an opportunity to realize what high demands our Christian faith puts on us.
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus said to Pilate right before he was crucified, “My kingship is not of this world.” However much the mayor’s decision feels like a desecration of something holy, he’s actually helping us see what Jesus’s words mean. If the world, or in this case the city of Bloomington, will no longer recognize the kingship of Jesus, our response should be to put the burden on ourselves and devote our energies to living out that kingship as individual believers and as a Church.
For at least a millennium and a half, Christianity has enjoyed a privileged status in the western world. The default assumption has been that pretty much everyone is Christian. Governments have recognized Christianity down the centuries, and even promoted it.
This is now ending. Society is getting more diverse, and increasing numbers of U.S. citizens are checking out of organized religion and not attending church. Government at all levels in the U.S. is responding by moving toward neutrality toward all religions, including Christianity.
Instead of trying to get worldly power back, Christians should get used to no longer having favored status. If the government will no longer do our work for us, we will have to do that work ourselves, with God’s grace. If we now have to build up the Church in circumstances very different from what we’re used to, we should welcome the opportunity.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, true to form, reacted to the mayor’s decision with a belligerent hypersensitivity that does the Church’s reputation no favors:
“[Mayor Hamilton] opted to rename Good Friday ‘Spring Holiday,’ because he doesn’t mind offending Christians. Yes, it is just that simple.”
But there’s nothing offensive about the mayor’s action. As for the loss of worldly power and privileged status: Isn’t that what happened to Jesus on the first Good Friday? We Christians have gotten so used to special treatment that we can’t imagine having to live for a kingdom not of this world. If Jesus could undergo crucifixion without fighting back, you’d think his followers could undergo this loss of worldly power a bit more graciously. We’re not being crucified. We’re not even being persecuted. We’re just being treated like other people.
On the day the world in some places calls “Spring Holiday,” there’s plenty for Christians to do on “Good Friday.” We can fast, we can pray, we can keep silence, we can read the Bible. We can feed the poor and visit the imprisoned. We can stand up for victims of discrimination, such as immigrants and Muslims. We can share with our young people the great adventure of living by a Gospel this world doesn’t know. We can strive for a Christ-like humility that might well draw some unchurched people to our way of life.
We don’t need the City of Bloomington to do any of those things. Let’s get at it.
Art work: The Crucifixion by Bartolomé Estebán Murillo (1617-1682), c. 1675.
Chant: Final intercession, Liturgy of Good Friday, Roman Missal.