In yesterday’s post I connected the events of the Last Supper and beginning of the Easter Triduum with April Fools Day, but even after that unexpected link you wouldn’t expect to see today’s reflection for Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion of Jesus, titled THE Comedy.
Our natural instinct would be to call a Good Friday reflection THE Tragedy but the classical definition of dramatic comedy (from 500 years before Christ) gives us a broader perspective.
Think of the Shakespearian comedies and tragedies which follow the understanding of dramatic genres in ancient Greece two thousand years before Shakespeare.
Here we learn that dramatic tragedy is drama ending in despair, desolation, death, or (even better), all three.
The genre of classical comedy includes performances which, after ups and downs, confusion and uncertainty, and the full spectrum of human (and divine) emotion (much of which seems tragic in the moment) leads to a happy ending. Such a play is called a comedy.
In the Greek or Shakespearian Comedy there is love lost, misunderstandings, confusion and deception, before the play ends in the celebration of a wedding which half an hour earlier seemed impossible.
Three hundred years before Shakespeare, (1300AD) The Divine Comedy describes the poet Dante Alighieri’s journey from a moment of mid-life confusion in a forest, being led away from the heavenly existence he naturally desires, to the depths of hell. But then the pilgrimage moves upward through purgatory to the ultimate and eternal happy ending in paradise. This Comedy is full of encounters with tragic figures before finding home in Heaven. This is The Divine Comedy.
I asked my wise Godmother (literally both – wise and my Godmother) to text me a comment on the difference between Tragedy and Comedy. Kay writes:
Tragedy tells stories of people who fall from high places, usually because of a fatal flaw (Macbeth ambition, Hamlet procrastination etc.). Comedy tells stories of ordinary people who face difficulties and are better off for their experiences. Comedy highlights the potential of the ordinary and tragedy warns us of the precariousness of superiority.
Tomorrow night in the Easter Vigil Exsultet, the Good Friday Death of Jesus, surely the ultimate tragedy, becomes the “happy fault” which (by the power of God) becomes the event of our redemption:
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
This afternoon’s Good Friday liturgy is titled The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. How can we celebrate such a tragic event? Certainly the disciples of Jesus would not have “celebrated” on the evening of the crucifixion.
It is significant that the word “celebrate” has its origins in the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass: “to perform publicly with appropriate rites” the Mass, from the Latin celebratus meaning “much-frequented, kept solemn.”
The celebration of the Easter Triduum, the Last Supper, suffering, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus which we do not only annually in these Holy and Easter days but also at every Mass also serves another purpose of classical comedy: Our celebration is corrective, “holding a mirror to society” in a way that is healing for relationships in a community by helping us to see the tragedy and foolishness of our actions today.
This is why we also call this Friday of the crucifixion of Jesus GOOD Friday.
- As you reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus become aware of any way in which you experience suffering, betrayal, abandonment, isolation etc… any of the human experiences which Jesus suffered on this day. Now think not of Jesus suffering long ago, but of your suffering today. Speak to Jesus (who has already been through whatever you are experiencing) about your burden. Ask him to turn it into resurrection.
Resources for Good Friday:
- The reading of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to John at this link. Note: while the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday is in each of three years from Matthew, Mark then Luke, the Passion read at the Liturgy of Good Friday is always from the Gospel of John.
- Last Year for Good Friday the National Liturgy Office worked with people around Aotearoa to prepare this online liturgy for use during lockdown. You might like to use it today.
Today you’ve deftly gifted us with new offerings, a fresh perspective, and deeper understandings of Good Friday. Real food for faith.
Thank you for this wonderfully fresh approach to this pivotal day. Such a change from the usual gratuitous heaviness, & just what I needed right now. (I’ll still make time time for “When I Behold the Wondrous Cross” though)
Thanks Fr John
I twigged immediately where you were coming from. As I was reading I couldn’t help thinking:”The benefit of a ‘good education’. In the ‘good old days’ we learnt about the origin of words and ideas – something which helped give greater insight into the use of language to communicate subtle ideas, especially when trying to explain religious belief.
Ask Jesus to turn my suffering into Resurrection – He has already experienced it….thank you John for today’s wisdom.
Thank you Fr John. The drama continues today. Are we not blessed to share this gift of faith. SKJ
Thank you John for the opportunity to explore how comedy and tragedy operate in our lives. I am glad my thoughts made it into your text.