Good Friday: Consummation
When Jesus relinquishes his own will and fears in the Garden of Gethsemane, the die is cast, and the events of Good Friday are set in motion. He will not shrink from those events or try to avert them in any way. He willingly allows himself to be captured and tried before a Sanhedrin with conviction a foregone conclusion.
But as Jewish religious leaders were denied imposing capital punishment by the Roman occupation, Jesus is bounced between Pilate and Herod, between Roman and Jewish political authorities to decide his sentence. When Pilate is finally persuaded by the threat of mob violence, Jesus is flogged and made to carry the instrument of his execution to Golgotha, a hill outside Jerusalem’s gates. Contrary to two millennia of images, Roman practice was not to have a prisoner carry the entire cross, but only the crossbar, which was later affixed to an upright already set in the ground at the place of execution.
Weakened by his beatings, loss of blood, and lack of sleep and food, Jesus stumbles under the weight of the crossbar along the Via Dolorosa (the way of sorrows), the way he was led through the streets of Jerusalem. Roman guards impress a Passover pilgrim, Simon from Cyrene, to help Jesus carry his burden, and together they reach the hilltop. The drama that unfolds on that barren hill has been rehearsed in billions of minds and hearts the world over ever since that first Good Friday…the cruelty of the Roman guard, the indifference of the crowd, the pain of Jesus’ mother and closest friends and family, the two zealots crucified with him, the seven recorded sayings of Jesus on the cross, the earthquake and darkness, the tearing of the curtain in the temple are all permanently etched in the minds of believers and non-believers alike.
No Greater Love
The cross is literally the crux of Western Christian theology, but if we understand it only as the means by which we can change an angry God’s mind about us–from destruction to salvation, hell to heaven–we are missing what this instrument of death is really showing us about life being lived right here and now. At Golgotha, Jesus is dying to show us the consummation of perfect love in an imperfect world–what that love looks like in human form.
Love requires vulnerability–the willingness to drop our defenses, be seen as we really are, and let the beloved in. We risk everything when we do this, which is why so few people really do it. And when we are hurt and heartbroken as every lover eventually is, how many of us are willing to remain vulnerable and ready to love again? Willing to be hurt again and again because love isn’t possible without the willingness to remain hurtable. On the cross, under the most excruciating and humiliating circumstances, Jesus never re-defends himself, never responds with blame, resentment, anger, retribution, but only says, forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing. The ultimate expression of fearless vulnerability, of perfect love in human form.
Jesus said that no greater love can be expressed than to lay down our lives for a friend. There is nothing we possess greater than our own lives–to give our lives is to give all that we have to give. But Jesus isn’t just talking about dying here; he’s talking about living in the constant willingness to lay down everything we think we are for the sake of another. Jesus had been giving his life away to his friends, piece by piece, for as long as he had been living. Word by word and action by action, whether healing, teaching, laughing, washing feet, Jesus poured out on his friends exactly what Father had poured out on him. And on this Friday, Jesus gave all he had left. He held nothing back in his single-minded drive to unite us with his Father.
We can understand love only as it is pouring out of us onto the beloved. And we can understand perfect love only when we pour out all we have, holding nothing back and letting the mystery of the cross show us how we can pour out everything on Friday, and by Sunday find that nothing we gave was ever lost. It just changed form.
In the crush to get Jesus’ body into a tomb before sundown in accordance with Jewish law–and on this day, the beginning of the Jewish Passover Sabbath–Joseph of Arimathea, along with fellow Pharisee Nicodemus, petition the Sanhedrin to have Jesus’ body released for which Joseph donates his own tomb newly cut out of the rock face near the Golgotha hill. Time is so short, the women are not able to anoint the body before the sun sets, putting all the elements in place for the events of Easter Sunday, when the women arrive before dawn to finish the anointing only to find that despite all Jesus had told them, they were still seeking the living among the dead.
We hope these readings and short comments help prepare you this week for Resurrection Day next Sunday. If you’d like to dig even further, here is a daily devotional for Holy Week with some really nice elements.
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