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What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is the day of the year when Christians turn their attention to the human suffering and divine sacrifice of Jesus on the day of his execution.  It is observed every year on the Friday before Resurrection Sunday (Easter) to commemorate the day Jesus was crucified.  Good Friday is a time for believers to contemplate and reflect on the purpose and meaning of Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice over 2,000 years ago and for our lives today.

What are the Seven Last Words?
The Seven Last Words of Jesus, or the Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross, are the seven last sayings of Jesus before his death as recorded in the four New Testament Gospels.   The order of the “words” is:

  1. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
  2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
  3. Woman, behold your son: behold your mother. (John 19:26-27)
  4. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
  5. I thirst. (John 19:28)
  6. It is finished. (John 19:30)
  7. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)

More information on Good Friday/Seven Last Words, see African American Lectionary: Good Friday.

Why Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On

We believe in one another / We believe in Jesus…
We can conquer hate forever / Wholy Holy, Oh Lord
We can rock the world’s foundation!   (Wholy Holy, What’s Going On, 1971)

Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is one of the most important albums of the 20th century.   Released in May 1971, in this recording, Gaye meditates on an American dream deferred from the perspective of a Vietnam War veteran.  Gaye wrestles with the problems of decay in black and inner city communities, environmental woes, military turbulence, police brutality, unemployment and poverty.  Throughout What’s Going On, he expresses vigilant hope in God and humanity while giving voice to the pain, despair and suffering too many experience in this world.  Gaye sings:

When I look at the world it fills me with sorrow
Little children today are really gonna suffer tomorrow (Save the Children)

And all (God) asks of us,
is we give each other love
Love your mother…
Love your father…
Love your sister…
Love your brother… (God is Love)

It makes me wanna holler
and throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing, trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading, God knows where we’re heading (Inner City Blues)

The music of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On speaks to important dimensions of Jesus’ crucifixion that we often overlook.  While most Christians understand the crucifixion of Jesus as necessary to redeem humankind from sin, we often fail to acknowledge the historical purpose of the cross in Jesus’ time.  In The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Dr. James H. Cone reminds us that at the heart of the Christian story is the paradox of a crucified savior.  He writes, “That paradox was particularly evident in the first century when crucifixion was recognized as the particular form of execution reserved by the Roman Empire for insurrectionists and rebels.”

Jesus was such a rebel.  He was deemed a threat to the Roman Empire because he embodied the radical notions that there should be good news for the poor, that prisoners should be freed, that the blind should see and the oppressed will be set free (Luke 4:18-19).

In the tradition of the Negro Spirituals (Were You There When they Crucified My Lord?, Go Down Moses, etc), What’s Going On, boldly gives us songs of lamentation (Inner City Blues) with psalms of joy and praise (God is Love) that challenge us to stand up and advocate for the freedom of all God’s children despite the efforts of “powers and principalities” to thwart the reign of God.

In Power in the Blood?: The Cross in the African American Experience, Dr. JoAnne Marie Terrell writes, “Jesus’ experience of betrayal, imprisonment, torture and death pre-figures the experience of black humanity in the legal constructs of the antebellum slavocracy, postbellum socioeconomic and political conditions and in postmodernity.” In other words, Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion parallel the suffering the most vulnerable among us encounter today.  We suffer from mass incarceration, community violence, poverty, unemployment and police and government corruption just as Jesus did over 2,000 years ago and Marvin Gaye sang bout over 40 years ago.  The question for followers of Jesus is whether we, too, will stand with “the least of these” to tell the world “What’s Going On,” “conquer hate forever,” and “rock the world’s foundation.”

 

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