“The king is dead.” -The first part of a pronouncement made upon the death of a monarch
This time of year we prefer to rush to Easter and make sure to focus on the empty tomb. For a few moments I challenge you to resist that temptation and contemplate the event of the crucifixion, as the first disciples would have experienced it.
“The king is dead” (a lament used in several countries when the monarch dies) seems inappropriate to many Christians. We even call Friday “good” which is certainly an odd label for the day we commemorate the death of our king.
The importance of Good Friday for Christianity is summed up with exacting brevity in the second article of The Apostles’ Creed: Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and was buried” (Traditional English Version).
Divided into four elements, these ten words capture the vital core of Good Friday, by 1) affirming the reality of Jesus’ suffering; 2) situating the death in historical context to a political figure; 3) verifying the cause, manner, and certainty of death; and 4) asserting Jesus’ burial.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to call Friday “good” so much as I think it’s too neat of a word to attach to the day when Jesus cries out to his Father: “Why have you forsaken me?” On a cross, abandoned by his followers (except the women), the religious leaders, and the governmental officials, nailed to two beams of wood, Jesus cries out in what was surely a mixture of physical, psychological, emotional, and relational pain, expressing the depths of his abandonment. And we read about this and call it “good.” Mmmm.
When reflecting on the sacrificial death of Jesus, Christians should thoughtfully ponder: “The king is dead.” The dead king, who came to set God’s people free and who was mocked as he hung dying … “king of the Jews.” Dead. Our king. Buried. In a tomb.
“The king is dead” is a statement of mourning and bereavement that we need to embrace, proclaim, and announce. After all, we signify Christianity with a cross, an instrument of humiliating death. We’ve ironically turned it into jewelry, an accoutrement of the religious. At the end of the 6-hour humiliation on “Good” Friday, these 4 words ring true: The king is dead. The promised Messiah had finally come, only to be executed as a blasphemer. On Friday his death marks the end of his ill-fated ministry as the Messiah of unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations.
The king is dead.
Part 2 will be posted on Sunday
Dr. Neal earned a BA in Political Science from Texas Tech University. He then pursued theological and ministerial training and is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDivBL), and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (MTh; PhD). He is married to Jennifer, and they have four children.
Dr. Neal’s teaching and research focuses on the relationship between biblical interpretation and theology. His Ph.D. research focused on systematic theology, specifically questions raised in contemporary German theology. He is the author of Theology As Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of Jurgen Moltmann’s Doctrine of Hope, and has published a variety of essays, articles, and chapters on theological topics. Dr. Neal has presented papers in several academic venues in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and the United States. Most recently he presented a paper on eschatology at the University of Notre Dame.