Is Good Friday Good for the Earth?
Indeed, the groaning creation itself seemed to join in the drama of Good Friday when darkness descended over the land, and the rocks then cried out with an earthquake announcing the start of a new morning for all of the kosmos as a risen Jesus, mistaken for a gardener, emerged on Sunday to make all things new. Yes, Good Friday and Easter were indeed days of good news for all the Earth.
How then should Christians relate to Earth Day? Not even the leaders of the evangelical "creation care" movement agree on that one. Rusty Pritchard of Flourish would prefer as an alternative to emphasize the applicable elements of Thanksgiving (not watching football, ingesting large quantities of tryptophan, and indulging in day-after shopping, but thankfulness to God for his creating and sustaining all things and the remembrance of our connection to Him and His works). Others, such as Dr. Matthew Sleeth of Blessed Earth, wish to "make Earth Day a Church Day." The Evangelical Environmental Network, on the other hand, is trying to build a National Day of Prayer for Creation Care from the ground up in May. Each of these approaches has its own set of advantages and perhaps an "all of the above" strategy best serves the Kingdom.
Yet, those who write off Earth Day completely because of its semi-secular roots and the fact that there are pagan elements on the fringe of the environmental movement might do well to consider another reason why we have the shared date for Good Friday and Earth Day this year. There is evidence that Christians moved the date of their Resurrection Day celebration in an effort to supplant the spring pagan rite for the goddess Eostre, probably picking up the name Easter as a sort of vestigial cultural artifact. The fact that Christmas is celebrated on December 25th follows a similar pagan-piggybacking strategy.
In other words, Christians have a long history of redeeming and sanctifying celebrations that were originally established for non-Christian purposes. There are risks involved, because the cross-pollination can go both ways. The theologically drifting leadership of the Episcopal Church, for instance, promotes the joint date on a web page that states, amongst other, more positive comments, that "when Earth is degraded and species go extinct, a part of God's body experiences a different type of crucifixion." This is simply incorrect. Equating the Earth with the body of God is more pantheist or panentheist than the traditional Christian understanding of a created universe about which God cares deeply, and which Christ sustains in mysterious ways, but from which God remains metaphysically distinct. Effective cultural engagement requires that we sharpen our own understanding so that we can effectively share with others.
That said, your local Earth Day event could likely use some salt and light. So I say, rather than simply thumb our noses at the mixed bag of common good and uncommon goofiness that one finds at such celebrations, let's grab those recyclables, put them in our re-usable tote, and head over on our way to church. This year we might even get the chance to witness to some spiritually wandering souls about how Good Friday was good news for all the Earth, including them.
John Murdock works as a natural resources attorney in Washington, D.C., and is a member of The Falls Church, which last year hosted the first annual Creation Care Concert in association with the National Day of Prayer for Creation Care.