I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. My parents, however, wanted me in private school, and in 4th grade (almost thirty years ago now!!!) that meant Christian school. At this particular school in Tacoma, you got a discount on your tuition for going to church, so THE CURRYS WERE GOING TO CHURCH, YOU HEAR?? That was my first introduction to Jesus. Even though I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, I grew up Lutheran.
For those of you scoring at home, Lutheranism is the protestant version of Catholicism. Heavy on the tradition, heavy on the liturgy. Lent is HUGE with Lutherans. And so, too, is Good Friday. My Good Friday church experience was singular in its impact and resonance. The service itself was pretty sparse: just scripture, various readings, and sad songs. It matched the proposed mood of the day. After each portion of the service, the lights would dim, darker…and darker…and darker with each verse, whether sung or read. Then, at the end, all the lights would go out and we’d be sitting in total darkness. There was a very large very old bible that sat on the lectern and, in the darkness, you would hear our pastor slam it closed and yell “It. Is. FINISHED!” We would get up and walk in silence to our cars, and drive home as families without uttering a word.
How does that make you feel? Nervous? Uncomfortable? Intrigued?
There is something powerful about letting a sad thing be sad. We struggle in Western Evangelical Christianity with this concept. We need to know that dawn is on its way, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard to function in discomfort that gets MORE uncomfortable, not less. Or something that comes along to confirm your greatest fears, not alleviate them.
Let me tell you something, though…Good Friday was AWFUL. To the people that lived through it, Good Friday was TERRIFYING. And there was no getting around it. For those who loved Jesus, and even those who didn’t (looking at you, Centurion), there wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Jesus lived a completely blameless, extraordinary, righteous life. But…then He died. And His followers were lost with an overwhelming grief and the nagging question of “Am I next?”
Isaiah 53:10-11 says:
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.”
The prophetic thread was there for these believers that death was not the end of Jesus’s story, but that thread can’t help but fray in those circumstances. Even HIS DISCIPLES SCATTERED when Jesus was arrested! Fear gripped them. An impenetrable dread settled on their souls. This is the beginning of the end, they may have thought. Not, Oh wow, NOW it’s getting GOOD! we think these days. Anything to get us closer to the Resurrection, right?
We are so quick to rush to Easter. He is Risen! Hallelujah! Let’s have brunch! And, honestly, Easter is AWESOME. It’s probably my favorite holiday. I love to celebrate it. I love the hope, I love the joy, I love the beauty and the light. But, the joy of Easter means absolutely nothing without the sorrow of Good Friday.
Two thousand years ago, the resurrection wasn’t “just around the corner” for Jesus’s mother. Mary Magdalene wasn’t sitting by the tomb waiting for Jesus to roll the stone away and walk out triumphant and resplendent. In fact, after the death of Jesus that came complete with three hours of complete mid-day darkness and an earthquake, it says in Luke 23:48 “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.” This grief was new. It came without hope and nary and shred of expectancy. People just…left. It was over. Nothing more to see here. Go home. And take your sorrow with you. What a hard day.
One of my favorite passages of the bible is Romans 12:1-3…
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Are you weary? Are you losing heart? This whole month on the blog, we have been putting ourselves in the sandals of these individuals intimately involved in Jesus’s final days. We’ve also been asking ourselves, What does God have to say to us through these accounts NOW? I believe He’s sending us encouragement in the middle of these times filled with uncertainty and grief. So, let us persevere.
Jesus endured so much for us. The strength to keep going under the most trying of circumstances is found in Him, so focus on Him. We are so easily distracted from whom we love. Keep close to Jesus. Even though there wasn’t much joy in Good Friday for US, there was plenty for JESUS (and a glimmer for that man hanging on the cross to His right).
Jesus knew where He’d come from and He knew where He was headed. His death made that destination possible for us, as well. That’s why there was no shame in dying that way. Back then, that was how you would describe death by crucifixion: shameful. But, do you think Jesus let shame enter into the equation when He thought of what His death in this manner would accomplish? No. He despised that shame and forever banished it, so when we think of the cross today, we are overwhelmed with love instead. It is impossible to love God and look at Jesus on that cross and not see the wellspring of that love, its origin, its sustainment, staring right back at you. What a man. What a savior.
It’s ok for Good Friday to be hard and sad. It’s ok to feel the bleakness and the weight. Easter has its day. Good Friday is not it. Find Jesus in the sorrow of the darkest day in history. Let Him hold you and comfort you in it. Cling to Him. He knows what you need.
Even with all that said, it’s not like we can pretend Easter doesn’t exist for the sake of Good Friday. But I believe that because we do know of Easter, we can enter into Good Friday more fully, and sit in the suffering of that day, doing so fearlessly. We know this is not where it ends. But it’s where it is now, today. Let’s claim solidarity with those who looked on Jesus as He died.