We all suffer. In some way, whether with a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone must face living in a fallen world with its pain and heartache. Suffering which seems to have no reason, the senseless kind and the type where nothing good appears to be going on at all can be very troubling to our souls.
At first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man. Yet, it is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ meant the redemption of the world. On this day Christians remember and commemorate the events that led up to the cross; unpack those events and interpret them with profound meaning and significance; and, worship Jesus with heartfelt gratitude in light of this redemptive event.
The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given over to the final week of Christ’s life, especially leading to the cross. Good Friday worship services often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross. Christians remember the last words of Christ, and recognize the significant impact his death had on the immediate persons around him. Believers also contemplate the lasting results of that singular death as an atoning sacrifice; perfect love; reconciliation between God and humanity; victory over evil; and, redeeming all creation.
Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day. It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for the accomplishment of deliverance from the power of sin. There is the recognition that something profound and meaningful has truly happened in the egregious suffering of Jesus. Thus, we not only remember the anguish of Christ, but what that horrible torment accomplished. In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its impact could not plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.
With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar. Yet, it is not. The bottom line is that the cross is not popular. Perhaps that is because no one likes suffering and cares not to think about it. Not only do unchurched folk care not to think about it, but church attenders would like to be mindful about other things than the cross.
Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the problem: “Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, and science. The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.” Indeed, as the Apostle Paul has said, the cross of Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Our contemporary religious milieu celebrates and promotes self-styled spirituality; it is the “in” thing to eschew church and develop a personalized religion that fits the demands of the modern (or postmodern) world. The cross, however, is “out;” too much blood and sacrifice, and not enough of what I’m looking for in life. Perhaps we should think long and hard on Hebrews 13:12-13 –
“Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured.”
The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges. Because Christ suffered, our suffering has meaning. So, today, let us contemplate the cross, observe the salvation accomplished through Christ’s death, and offer prayers and petitions for those who need deliverance from the power of evil. In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross. Amen.