Every Good Friday, I’m always struck by the name we’ve decided to give this day. Beatings, betrayal, mockery and death. We call that good?
Ah, but therein lies the tension. As I’ve gotten older, tension is what I associate Good Friday with the most.
You see, I’ve grown up in the church. Without fail, if you ask someone why Good Friday is considered good, you’ll probably get some variation on the same answer…
Because Sunday’s coming.
By that, they mean that we know Jesus rose again on the third day — winning triumphantly over death and saving mankind from our sins. Obviously, that’s good!
Yes, but what about the days before Sunday? Easter may be astoundingly good, but that’s still a few days away. What about Friday is good?
First off, I encourage you to go read the account for yourself. It’s in Matthew 27:11–65.
Jesus, who just days before had majestically ridden into the city amidst cheering and applause, was being traded for a murderer and sentenced to the cruel death of crucifixion.
Again I ask, what’s good about that?
For one, I know that Jesus understands me.
Of course I’m not saying that I’ve ever gone through anything so painful as dying on the cross. No, not even close.
But that’s the point. I know that the God to whom I pray, the God who created the universe and came to earth to save me…I know He understands what I’m going through. If He endured that pain, He understands any pain.
Another good thing that comes out of this story is the realization that it’s okay to ask God questions. Even Jesus did. In fact, Jesus asked God why He had forsaken Him. That’s a pretty tough, direct question.
But if you’re like me, you’ve been in tough moments where you wanted to ask God direct questions like that. It’s good knowing that Jesus is okay with us doing that.
But it would be pretty selfish of me to say that all the pain and suffering Jesus went through was good because I came to the realization that it’s okay to ask questions. No, I have a hard time saying Good Friday is good.
And that’s another good thing about it.
We’re not always going to be in good situations. Jesus doesn’t promise that the Christian life will be easy. Life is hard sometimes. There’s no way around it.
But even in the bad times, God is with us and He has a plan for us. Jesus’ death and resurrection had been foretold thousands of years before. This plan was being worked out before many who were watching it unfold had even been born.
No, it’s not good that my Savior was betrayed, beaten and crucified upon a cross. There’s a heaviness I feel whenever I read about it. But I think that’s okay. I think we’re supposed to sit in that tension for a little bit. I think we’re supposed to search tough situations like Good Friday to find where God is in all of it. Why?
Because it makes Sunday that much sweeter.
I encourage you, no matter what you’re going through, God is there. Maybe you’ve never looked for Him before. That’s okay. The man on the cross next to Jesus didn’t look for God until minutes before he breathed his last breath.
I’ve seen God in times where I thought my money would run out. I’ve seen God in times when pain and death touched my family. I’ve seen God in times where the questions I wanted to ask him were hard for me to even put into words.
He’s always been there. And I know He always will be.
If there’s anything good about Good Friday, it’s that God isn’t intimidated by tension. It doesn’t scare Him. In fact, He invites us to sit with Him in the midst of tension. Because what He has in store is even better…
A Good Friday Reflection
When I was at primary school, in our RE lessons we learned about the crucifixion and resurrection. This being a very long time ago, at the beginning of the 1960s, there were tests on such things as remembering all of Jesus’ words in the course of his walk to execution and during his crucifixion. I never could remember them all.
However, I do remember the teacher saying how remarkable Jesus was because he cared for others even while he was being crucified. Being 8 and not very nice – some people might say only one aspect of that has changed – I was unimpressed. Surely this was a story, and he got his lines right.
Age may not teach us much, but for many it teaches the nature of risk. We learn that we are not immortal; that things can go wrong. With age, we learn to be more cautious, much more aware of disappointment and pain and therefore more able to identify with the depths of a story: the complex realities of human suffering.
So it is with the crucifixion. Jesus was in physical agony to an indescribable extreme. He was also in spiritual and emotional agony. He had seen his community of disciples torn apart by outright betrayal as well as cowardice and desertion. He could see his mother watching him die; is it possible to imagine her anguish? He was mocked and told he was a failure.
His sense of God the Father’s presence was gone. There was no earthly or heavenly help in his hour of need. Like every human being he had to rely, in his agony, on what he could find within himself. Jesus could not call on God for help because he was choosing to enter into the fullest hell of all: separation from his loving heavenly Father, and therefore bearing the weight of the wrongs of our world
Jesus would bear our sins, taking the whole darkness of human history and cosmic chaos, and die under their weight. The resurrection was promised, but in the absence of God the Father it could only be taken in faith.
These were not lines to be spoken in some school play: this was God’s love in action, even to the point where the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that deep mystery – was separated, out of love for God’s creatures.
As we wait at the cross, and bring the darkness of bereavement, of isolation, of confinement, of insecurity and homelessness, or the sufferings of others, we place them all at the feet of Jesus. We can do nothing else. But at feet of Jesus, at the cross, we also find the sign of our hope and the faithfulness of God-in-Christ, crucified. This is Jesus Christ who bears our sins and our suffering, that we may hear the whispers of resurrection: of new life, forgiveness, freedom and healing.
We too may call out: “Oh God, where are you?” The answer will come, “With you in your suffering and fear, knowing every aspect of it, for I drank it to the dregs. With you, if you take my hand, to lead you to new light and life.”
Good Friday Reflection
How difficult it is to even begin to think about the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Words sometimes fail us. If someone who was not a Christian asked us to explain what Christ’s suffering and death on the cross meant to us, it would be difficult to put it into words. Our emotions well up to the surface and get in the way. We can’t hardly talk about it. The right words just won’t come.
Many people withdraw inside of themselves, shutting out the world around them during Good Friday services, when the gospel account of Christ’s passion is read. Many of us who attend Good Friday services in the afternoon, watch the procession of people who venerate the cross in silence. One by one, each person makes a profound statement of their love for Jesus in their own unique way. Words are not needed. Their emotions show on their faces and in their body language. Words may fail us when we contemplate Christ’s death, but our hearts do not. The heart has a language all it’s own, but love is the most difficult of all emotions, to fully express.
Saint Peter had a hard time handling his emotions when the soldiers came for Jesus. He immediately defended him with his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Sometimes we act before we think too, when our emotions are out of hand. But, Jesus calmed the situation down, by telling Peter to put away his sword, because he needed to do what his Father wanted.
We think we know the story about the passion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross really well, because we’ve heard it for many years. However, what we notice about the passion of Jesus Christ is a little different every year. For an example, after the soldiers arrested Jesus, Peter stood with the slaves and guards warming himself by a fire, because it was cold. Have you ever thought about it being cold or a little cool during the day when Jesus was crucified? All of the movies we’ve watched about the passion of Jesus show him sweating a lot, but it may not have been very warm. The cold is something we may not have even considered, when Jesus laying dying on the cross, without wearing any clothes to keep him warm. Criminals were also often crucified completely naked, in order to humiliate them further when they were dying. Every single shred of human decency was taken away from Jesus in the last moments of his life.
And yet, the Jews that brought Jesus to Caiaphas would not even enter the praetorium, for fear of defiling themselves so they wouldn’t be able to eat the Passover meal. What’s wrong with this picture? If we think life isn’t fair for us sometimes, then we should remember it wasn’t fair for Jesus Christ either.
The Jews even had to find someone else to do their dirty work for them, because they could not execute Jesus themselves. Pilate didn’t want to go along with it though. We need to give him a little credit for that. Pilate wasn’t even a Jew, but he recognized that Jesus was not an ordinary person. Did you notice Pilate’s reaction after the Jews told him that Jesus was guilty because he made himself out to be the Son of God. The scriptures said, “Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid.”
Jesus had compassion on Pilate’s plight. He was caught in the middle of a very difficult situation that he didn’t want to be a part of. Jesus understood this, and did not condemn the man, who would sentence him to be crucified. Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” Jesus even eased the guilt of his executioner.
When Jesus was crucified, Pilate had a sign made, written in three different languages stating that Jesus was the King of the Jews, and he would not remove it, even after the chief priests went to him and asked him to remove it. He said, “What I have written, I have written.” Even Pilate recognized Jesus was no ordinary man. He didn’t want anything to do with his death, and he wanted everyone to know that the Jewish people were the ones who were guilty of killing him.
Thankfully, the gospel account of Jesus’s death on the cross today is not as detailed as the readings we had on Palm Sunday. It is still very difficult to read them, but it is also very difficult just to think about Mary’s suffering as she stood beneath the cross, watching her son die. The pain must have felt like a knife cutting into her heart, just like Simeon had predicted the day Mary and Joseph presented baby Jesus in the temple. How could she have stood the pain, standing by helplessly, while her son suffered such a horrible death, watching his life slowly slipping away and there was nothing she could do?
There was nothing Jesus could do to ease her pain while she watched him die, but give her to John. He gave his mother to John, to love her, and take care of her for him, after he was gone. They needed each other. They would need each other to get through the days ahead of them. Mary needed John, but John also needed Mary.
We need Mary too, in our own moments of weakness. When we suffer over our own families. When life gets to be too much. Too difficult. Too hard to handle by ourselves. We are not always as strong as her. We are weaker than Mary. When our own faith falters and we are not so sure about our own lives anymore, we should try to remember what Jesus said in the last moments of his life on earth, to “Behold, your mother”.
Mary is our mother now. She guides us back to her son.
Everything we need to know about life, is found in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.