Thanksgiving was definitely dwarfed by Black Friday this year. Retail email campaigns began the week of Thanksgiving advertising online sales and Black Friday store hours. The caveat this year was who was going to open earliest on Thanksgiving eve and which WalMart employees were going to strike. I guess our rural WalMart employees didn’t get the strike memo because our rural WalMart parking lot was packed on Friday.
On the heels of Black Friday was Small Business Saturday promoted by American Express. Obviously American Express is the new Hallmark. Plastic purchases have replaced hallmark moments. Capitalism is now the official American holiday kicked off with holiday consumerism. The only thing we’re missing is the politicized nativity scene. I’m sure that’s coming.
It’s both fitting and incredibly ironic that the biblical Gospel reading for this last Sunday of the liturgical year is the other Black Friday, more commonly known as Good Friday. The liturgical year begins with Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas and concludes with the Sunday before Advent. The bible is then divided into sections with the idea that the story of Christ – his foretold birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection – is told from beginning to end marking an ecclesiastical year.
The Sunday before Advent is often called Christ the King Sunday. You’ll see why in our bible passage from John’s gospel:
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’
Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’
Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’
Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’
Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’
Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’
Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:33-38).
This reading throws us right into the middle of a messy argument that we’re not prepared for. Neither was Pontius Pilate. In fact, he’s wondering how he got mixed up in a religious argument that has nothing to do with him. He’s not even religious! He’s exiled to this backwater city Jerusalem that has been nothing but a thorn in his side and the never-satisfied clergy wake him up in the middle of the night to deal with one of their own.
The clergy were upset with Jesus about a lot of things, but driving the entrepreneurs out of the temple was the crowning blow. Doesn’t he understand how difficult it is to fundraise in this economy?!? Why can’t he just split and start his own church?
I feel for Pilate. He wants to be in the middle of this as much as I want to be in the middle of Texas seceding from the United States. He tries to diffuse the situation, moving between the clergy and Jesus trying to find a peaceful, diplomatic solution. Instead, he gets the clergy asking for the death penalty (!) and Jesus talking about being some kind of king, but not of this world. It’s a lot easier pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey than it is to get the clergy to pardon Jesus.
In the end, Pilate washes his hands of the whole mess and asks, What is truth?
I sympathize with Pilate. The stakes may not be as high for me, but navigating a life between faith and the world is just as thorny. I call myself Christian yet refuse to bow to political fundamentalist pressure when voting. The values of my faith don’t sync with the surrounding culture where holiday consumerism and the exploitation of most of the planet’s population and geography doesn’t square with love your neighbor and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Greed is good because it helps the economy, but the common good and helping others is seen as socialism and big government. I reject rigid religiosity that highjack Jesus to promote bigotry against everyone who believes or is different than them and yet secular humanism discounts the sacred soul.
It’s this Black Friday I understand. It’s this Black Friday with all of its darkness and lostness I see. It’s this Black Friday that is full of hope. Because next week we light our first candle: a light shining in the darkness and the promise of new birth.