I would like to thank my clergy friends for a discussion topic on Facebook: Black Friday vs. Good Friday.* Because of them and the movement of the Holy Spirit, I couldn’t stop thinking about the special connection between these two Fridays.
My initial thought was that they are complete opposite festivities… one being the day people give their heart and soul for consumerism, the other that someone gave their heart and soul for justice… Wait… Not so fast… I need to get over my Thanksgiving turkey coma before really diving into this topic…
Once my coma wore off and I began to read one or two other comments in the discussion, I realized there were more similarities.
First of all, for those who believe solely in sacrificial atonement may arrive at the conclusion that these two days are complete opposites. As I mentioned earlier, to some people Good Friday is good because they believed Jesus died to save their sins. But not everyone believes that model of atonement.
Many of us believe that Jesus died because of our sins not for our sins. Because of a broken system in which few had great power and many were disposable, Jesus had to stand up as a voice for the voiceless and to give dignity to the unclean. Because of his courage and risk, Jesus was forced to face the cross. Thus, Good Friday is a sad day in which we remember something bad that happened to someone who loved with his whole heart. Good Friday is a gloomy day.
It’s not the only ominous Friday.
I’ve worked in retail. While I’ve worked on Black Friday, I never truly experienced the chaos of a store opening. I have, however, worked full-time in a department store during the weeks before Christmas. I was exhausted. Through this gloomy holiday memory, I experienced the disillusionment of Christmas. While most people darted in and out of stores, some left the negativity which rippled through each of our lives. Christmas was no longer a season of joy and sparkle but a time of dismay under florescent store lights. (Fortunately, I found my resurrection since my retail days by working in non-profits and churches. But I wonder where others find their resurrection while working in bleak midwinter at the mall…)
Thinking back to my retail experience, Black Friday wasn’t the beginning of the festive Christmas Season but a reminder of the somber parts of Holy Week and the despair of Good Friday. Little did I realize that I was in need of resurrection and renewal.
By comparing Black Friday to Good Friday, I see a Christ who is in solidarity with the retail worker. I am reminded of a Jesus who experienced the impact of a broken system. Likewise, those in retail during the holidays experience the same brunt of a broken economic system. I recall the story of Jdimytai Damour, a retail worker who died when opening the doors to Black Friday crowds. Damour was just trying to do his job and earn a paycheck. Instead, he met his demise in the cracks of an unjust and broken system. I think Jesus wanted to be on that cross as much as the Damour wanted to be trampled in a 2008 Walmart stampede.
Both workers and shoppers have been hurt in the name of great sales. And each year it gets bigger. Rarely do people challenge the way the system works. In fact, more sales are desired by the “powers that be.” Hours are expanded. Sales are promoted greater than the prior year. Corporations understand that having a few items that many people want (and couldn’t otherwise afford) will drive people into the stores. Because dignity comes with owning certain items, people will forgo time with their loved ones to make purchases. (I highly recommend reading this article by Diana Butler Bass.) The value of Thanksgiving lessens while the value of Black Friday increases.
The way that I would like to explain how much Black Friday has grown is through this analogy: what if Good Friday was celebrated at the exclusion of Maundy Thursday? What if we stopped celebrating Maundy Thursday, the supper and the words of institution? What if we removed the story of Jesus celebrating Passover with his friends and just focused on his arrest and death? Corporate’s decision to veil Thanksgiving by adding store hours is the equivalent of Jesus being arrested before celebrating Thursday’s Passover meal. It’s hiding the sacredness of our annual meal-sharing. Time specifically set aside to sit at the table, relax and enjoy family, friends and food has now been taken away to worship the almighty dollar and a very broken system.
I find it interesting that both Black Friday and Good Friday arrive after the day of meal-sharing. In Jesus’ time, it was the Passover meal. In our time, we share the Thanksgiving table. Peaks of kindness hover over the food. Prayers given in gratitude for the incredible blessings in our life.
Yet the warmth of the food and love at the Table begins to drift away. In the midst of the night, Jesus begins to experience the chills of abandonment and hate. Workers all around our country travel to work as the moon lurks overhead. As doors open to the whirlwind of coveting hearts, the loving energy of Thanksgiving is drained from the retail workers souls. Rarely does someone find their death at the hands of a broken system like Damour did. However, souls are crushed and spirits begin to die through the exhaustion and heartlessness that a retail worker can experience throughout the holiday season.
When does the resurrection come? For Good Friday, it was the “third” day. They needed to experience only two restless nights and resurrection was experienced.
Yet after our Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday, resurrection is rarely seen on the following Sunday. Shoppers still fight the crowds, hoping to find a parking space and getting grumpy when they can’t find what they are looking for. Workers continue to work the expanded hours and feel the ripple effect of negativity.
If we believe that Christ is in solidarity with the retail worker, resurrection is needed. Since it probably won’t come on the Sunday after Black Friday, or for another three to four weeks, some kind of hope is needed in the lives of retail workers.
What does this look like? How can we bring renewal, grace and hope to those working in the retail business?
First of all, we can stand for the dignity of the workers. This may include writing to corporate headquarters to let them know if their employer practices do not seem fair.
Secondly, we can be aware of how we treat the retail workers. They are on their feet five to eight hours per day. Many are making little over minimum wage. On top of all of this, they are encountering lots of shoppers each day, many of whom are grumpy. We can bring smiles and joy to their day and help them see the love of Christ whose birthday we mark with the purchase of these gifts. We can ask them how they are doing and treat them as humans, not servants. Retail workers are God’s children and made in God’s image.
There is very little joy in either Black Friday and Good Friday. Because of greed and selfishness, people hurt. Yet helping people find resurrection sooner rather than later will assist them in finding the presence of God in their midst.
*Special thanks to Désirée Hartson Gold and Chris McArdle