Blogs > Cliopatria > Good Friday and Terry Schiavo* ...

Mar 25, 2005 11:56 am

Good Friday and Terry Schiavo* ...

For all of us in the Christian tradition, today is Good Friday, the day in the liturgical year when we recall the crucifixion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It comes, this year, near the end of a long and, sometimes, near obscene struggle over the life and death of one of my fellow Christians, Terri Schiavo. That struggle seems, on this Good Friday, to be near its end.

It disturbs me that our common Christianity doesn't yield a common understanding of how to think about Terri Schiavo's life. Clearly, it has become a symbolic issue for divisions about many other things in American legal, medical, and political history. But, for those of us who are Christians, it ought to be about her life and our faith.

On this Good Friday, I turn to St. Paul's reflections in I Corinthians 15 on the meaning of the death of Jesus. There, he tells us that death is"the last enemy to be destroyed." It is an enemy and, in that sense, at least, the struggle of life is ordained for all of us; and it is the last enemy, one not yet destroyed and, so, one to be faced by all of us. Until the end of history, when death, itself, will be destroyed.

I have enormous respect for the seamless pro-life ethic of many of my fellow Christians. I want them to be consistent in its application: to oppose war, as a vehicle of death; to oppose capital punishment, as a vehicle of death; to oppose abortion, as a vehicle of death; and to hold onto life at its end – to struggle against our"last enemy." But in the interim, death is our last enemy, and face it we must.

Today, we Christians meditate on the way in which our Lord died. Betrayed by a friend, seized by his enemies, tried by authorities, and sentenced to painful death by crucifixion between two criminals. Few of us will ever know such humiliation. But he goes before us and is the hope by which we face our"last enemy." Frankly, I don't know whether Terri Schiavo faced it 15 years ago or whether she faces it in the next few days. And neither do you. But there comes a point at which not allowing her to face it nears a blasphemous denial of the hope of the Resurrection.

As I remember the death of our Lord, today, and as I look to the approach of my own, I pray for the grace with which he faced it and live in the hope that he brought us. May our sister, Terri, be allowed to face it, because we have his example and his word: that death is merely our last enemy. It is not the last word.

*I apologize to any of Cliopatria's readers who do not share the assumptions on which this is based and hope that you will not be offended by it.

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Ralph E. Luker - 3/28/2005

You are, of course, correct about this. My deepest apologies.

Jurretta Jordan Heckscher - 3/28/2005

"For all of us in the Christian tradition, today is Good Friday. . . ." Well, no--not for all of us. For those of us in the traditions of the ancient Christian East, from Ethiopia and what was once Byzantium east and north to what is now Iraq and on to the edges of the old Russian Empire near the Arctic Circle, Good Friday is April 29.

Better to have said "For all of us in the Western Christian tradition"--even though, of course, what is "west" is itself a relative term.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/27/2005

I suppose I'm revealing my own biases when I say that the lack of a clear common understanding on an issue this complex among American Christians doesn't actually strike me as disturbing, but as reasonably healthy. It's not that I want Christians to be divided against themselves, but that anyone who says there is a simple and straightforward answer to this question is highly suspect. This is new territory, technologically and -- for most -- theologically, complicated by competing factual claims and legal systems which distill down decisions to issues which may or may not go to what feels like the heart of the matter. Given the pre-existing diversity of American Christianity, unity on the issue at this point would be ... well, miraculous.

I'm not a Christian, but I believe that it's important that the Christian communities in this country have a discussion among themselves as Christians (The same is true for us Jews, for the other faiths and for the faith-free) well as citizens. It's important to be clear on the values we are pursuing before making policy, so that we have a metric of success, and so that we can approach that lovely "seamless garment" consistency.

Easter is a remarkable holiday, and I don't just say that because of my chocoholism (Cadbury Eggs, ohhhh) or because my family shared holidays like Easter and Passover with close friends. I say that because the story has great power, when approached properly. I've never felt closer to understanding the power and glory of Christianity than when I've viewed the oh-so modern Passion plays (I refer, of course, to Godspell and Jesus Christ, Superstar) (and this is why I don't underestimate the power of less modern Passion plays, either) and considered my own feelings around the most comparable Jewish holy days.

Ralph, I wish you and yours an awe-filled Easter.

Caleb McDaniel - 3/26/2005

Thanks to both Ralph and Oscar. A book I've been reading off and on for months by Jeffrey Stout, _Democracy and Tradition_, argues convincingly that democracy dies the day that people cannot express their most deeply held reasons for a belief -- even or especially when those reasons are grounded in a religious tradition.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/25/2005

Never offense Ralph. Everyone gets their core values from somewhere; for you, the ultimate source is the Christian God. It is the American contention, and I would ague that it is our greatest contribution to the Judeo-Christian tradition, that there is enough in common betweem most moral and religious positions to cobble out a compromise of extraordinary breadth on living with each other day by day.

Most of the time it works. Even in the Shiavo case it has allowed for some good dialogue in every day life (though less so in the media.) Still, the Schiavo case brings us face to face with ultimate questions. What is life? Is it a gift? If so, from whom and to what end? To what extent are there things that matter more than life? Are we free (morally) to define a good life and to give that greater value over a bad life?

Necessarily, many feel that they must return to their core to deal with these questions. And what better time than Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the sacrifice at the core of the faith.

Van L. Hayhow - 3/25/2005

Thank you.