Good Friday, April 10, 2020
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood, see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
One of the things that has been repeated over and over again (even in these devotions) is the need to wash our hands often and well during this time of crisis. Today, however, the meaning of the phrase “washing our hands” takes on a new connotation. What I am alluding to is that in all the many things going on in Scripture on this Good Friday, there is the dramatic gesture of Pontius Pilate. His actual, physical washing of his hands makes it clear that he wants no responsibility for the execution of Jesus. Perhaps we do something similar. As a Baptist minister, I realize that too often we in Baptist circles wash our hands of this day called Good Friday. Up until recently, it was rare to even hear of a Baptist church having a Good Friday worship service. There could be a number of reasons for that, but my hunch is that we are a lot like iconoclastic author, Anne Lamott, who writes, “I don’t have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion. I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday School, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life and a basketful of chocolates. Now you’re talking.”
Aside from Ms. Lamott’s facetiousness, there is a part of us that recoils at depictions of this day. For instance, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was worth seeing once, but his gruesome portrayal does not attract many repeat customers. However, perhaps it goes deeper than our artistic sensibilities.
Maybe it has to do with our confusion about the cross. There are so many theological positions about the meaning of Good Friday. Some would say that our sinfulness was so great that no human being could atone for it all, so God sent Jesus to die for our sins, erasing the debt once and for all. This substitutionary atonement theory is probably the most popular view of the cross, but it doesn’t work for me. What kind of father demands the death of a son in order to pay off a debt to himself?
According to another view, it was God who died on the cross, making a divine sacrifice to square things for humanity. But if Jesus was God on the cross, then who was he was talking to in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked for the cup to be removed, or who was it that he addressed from the cross with his cry of forsakenness? I’m not particularly keen on that theory either.
What I believe is that the cross shows God’s at-oneness with us, that there is nothing we will encounter that God has not experienced. There is no pain or fear or feeling of abandonment that has not already been taken into the heart of God, God’s very self. The gifted theologian Jürgen Moltmann put it this way in his book The Crucified God: “Because of Jesus’ experience on the cross, there is no human suffering which is not God’s suffering also. There is no death which has not been God’s death.”
Dr. Fred Craddock was one of God’s most eloquent spokespersons. Like C.S. Lewis, he had the knack for capturing a complex theological issue in a simple, almost childlike fashion. In a sermon he preached on a Good Friday, he describes a most-common human occurrence: “A child falls down and skins a knee or elbow and comes running to mother. The mother picks up the child and says—in the oldest myth in the world — ‘Let me kiss it and make it well.’ . . . She picks up the child, kisses the skinned place, holds the child in her lap, and all is well. Did her kiss make it well? No. It was that ten minutes in her lap. Just sit in the lap of love and see the mother crying. ‘Mother, why are you crying? I’m the one who hurt my elbow.’ ‘Because you hurt,’ the mother says, ‘I hurt.’ That does more for the child than all the bandages and medicine in the world, just sitting in her lap. The story of Jesus coming to dwell among us begins on Christmas and ends on Good Friday. It is the story of God stooping to pick us up. We thought if there were to be business between us and God, we must somehow get up to God. Then God came down to the level of the cross, all the way down to the depths of hell. God still stoops, in your life and mine.” Craddock goes on to ask, “What is the cross? Can I say it this way? It is to sit for a few minutes in the lap of God, who hurts because you hurt.”
On this Good Friday I don’t need to “wash my hands” of the sufferings of this world. I need to fall on my knees and bring my hurts, my transgressions, my concerns for the world to God. If I can’t do that on this day, I can’t really comprehend the fullness of Easter. Will Willimon captures that feeling when he tells about the time his first small Methodist church decided to put a rough wood cross on the church lawn for Lent. The neighborhood complained. It was too depressing, they said. Thinking about that, and thinking about the people who line up to crowd into church on Easter, Willimon said that he’s always been tempted to put a sign out front during Holy Week: “No one gets in Sunday who wasn’t here Friday.”
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- Consider what it is that breaks the heart of God. Pray for those who are suffering in these difficult days.
- Are you able to name the specific suffering that most affects you during these days? Is it mental, physical or spiritual? Spend some time opening your heart to God.
- How might we as a church demonstrate the commitment and love exemplified by Jesus on that Friday? Let us pray for God’s guidance in this regard.
Guides for Prayer: Music and a Written Prayer
- As a time of quiet devotion, listen to one of the “Passions” created by Johan Sebastian Bach (I would suggest Matthew or John’s Passion) or Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
- A Prayer by Ted Loder
shock and save me with the terrible goodness of this Friday,
and drive me deep into my longing for your kingdom
until I seek it first –
yet not first for myself,
but for the hungry
and the sick
and the poor of your children,
for prisoners of conscience around the world,
for those I have wasted
with my racism
for those around mother earth and in this city
who, this Friday, know far more of terror than of goodness;
that in my seeking for the kingdom,
for them as well as for myself,
all these things may be mine as well:
things like a coat and courage
and something like comfort,
a few lilies in the field,
the sight of birds soaring on the wind,
a song in the night,
and gladness of heart,
the sense of your presence
and the realization of your promise
that nothing in life or death
will be able to separate me or those I love,
from our love
in the crucified one who is our Lord
and in whose name and Spirit I pray.