Good Friday, what’s so Good about Good Friday?
It seems a little bit of a misnomer given how gruesome today’s story is. Jesus is tested, betrayed and arrested, humiliated, his disciples reject him, he’s beaten and tortured, put on the cross to suffer a horrible death, witness to the agony on his mother’s face as she watches her child die slowly. Some say that watching your children die is the greatest pain a person can know. How much more so in slow motion?
What is so good about Good Friday?
What if we called it Betrayal Friday, or Bloody Friday, or Crucifixion Friday, or WTF Friday. Perhaps we had to call it Good Friday as a coping mechanism in order to deal with how terrible it really is.
You know, as I enter deeper into my vocational journey with you here at St. Matthews, I find myself taking scripture much more seriously. Working with it every day, I am beginning to understand more about it, see things differently, learning so much all the time.
Many of you already know that my wife and I just had another baby, and I don’t know if it’s the sleep deprivation talking, but I wanted to cry this week when I read through this reading. Even though I have read it and heard it so many times, I was a little bit overwhelmed by it this time. I don’t want to see anyone treated the way Jesus was abused that day, let alone, the one I try to follow, the one I look to for guidance and wisdom, to show me how to live a better life. And now here he is, mercilessly destroyed on a cross because he was right, because lesser hearts and minds couldn’t deal with it, because he lived out the Divine Truth.
I can’t even really say why it seems so much more important to me this time around. Perhaps, in my gratitude for the many blessings in my life, in the presence of new life, today’s reading shows us how truly fragile life is. There is a very thin line between wealth and poverty, health and death.
Of course being the manly man that I am, I supressed those feelings and got on with my work in typical stoic fashion. Yeah right. I am upset, what a damn shame! What can I say, I love the guy. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Others would not have built this church. You would not come out week after week, a miserable morning such as this, volunteering your time, extending a helping hand to others, living out your faith and so on.
You know the church has many dark chapters in its past, a lot to live down. But the church has also done many truly wonderful things. If we think about modern day health care and education, we can thank the church. We can thank the countless Christians who have been inspired by Jesus to do many wonderful things too; from the visionary to the ordinary. As the universal church we need to take account of the mistakes of the church, but also, we need to hold up its achievements.
Jesus didn’t just die on the cross that day in Jerusalem. He has died a million deaths over again, each time his name was abused to start wars or victimize people. And he is born again each time his name is enacted for life giving acts of love and mercy.
But today is not a good day. For on this day, most of Jesus’ followers abandoned Him on the cross. The few who would not abandon him, those who would take him down, prepare his grave, attempt to restore a shred of dignity to his shredded body. Those life giving acts of love and mercy; and so the church was born on the backs of those few who stayed, on the bedrock of their grief as they bore witness to ultimate suffering.
While in Nazareth last year, the group I was with went to a mock Nazarene village. It was designed to give you an idea of what life was like in Jesus’ time. It had shepherds, carpenters and weavers, grape and olive presses, food, animals and so on. The one thing that stood out the most for me, however, was a replica of the type of cross that Jesus was crucified on. I was surprised how small it was, I would have needed a bigger one. I suppose people weren’t as tall as they often are today. I was also surprised at how rough it was, basically two knotty limbs nailed together. Imagine walking up to an Olive tree, cutting off a limb or two, cut the branches off and there you go, ready to crucify. There was not a lot of care put into these instruments of death for enemies of the state. I’m sure they had other pressing business to attend to.
It was not carefully crafted and perfectly symmetrical like the ones you typically see in the movies, grand and majestic, or like this one before you here, where devoted followers put their humble hearts into it, making sure it was just right. Seeing that ragged cross brought into greater context the ragged death that Jesus suffered.
Of course we know in the back of our minds that Easter will soon be upon us, however, Mary and those gathered around her enjoyed no such foreknowledge. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the darkness of this day, to immediately jump to the warm and fuzzy part. Today we are in mourning. I think it is important to sit in the suffering at the cross; to try to imagine that pain for even a brief moment… to imagine the invisible sufferings of those around us…
Hopefully, we come to a deeper understanding of just how much we have to be grateful for. For it was ultimately through the absolute despair of the cross that God acted, in a way that is very different from how we might hope or expect it…