Christians are Easter people. Yet we live in Good Friday world.
The events of Holy Week trace the path into the inevitability of loss. Jesus slowly loses his followers, then his trial, then his clothing, then his strength, and finally his life. His mother loses her son. His disciples lose their teacher. Peter loses his best friend. It is a day of almost unending loss.
We come to mark the death of Jesus on the solemnity of Good Friday. Jesus the prophet. Jesus the healer. Jesus the trouble-making insurrectionist. Jesus the Christ.
We honor this day as holy in itself, although we already know the ending of the story. It is not as though our annual commemoration can repeat the day. The crucifixion of Jesus was a singular event in history. Jesus died once, offering his life in order to defeat the power of Death over all creation.
We honor this day, discerning its meaning for our place in time.
We come to this night suspecting that on some level, the suffering of the Holy One continues: surely the sharp edge of anguish touches divine Love, as those who are beloved endure suffering. What other word but anguish could describe the experience of humanity this year, last year, any year actually? We come here trusting that Jesus is raised, hoping that the power of Love is greater than the power of Death. And I say “hoping” because our experience with death is hardly encouraging. Our beloved dead still rest in their graves – we take it on trust that the gospels tell us the truth. So we come to pray, not to re-enact the suffering but to make sense of it all.
We come to Good Friday walking along our own path of loss: in our personal contexts – in the wider context of witnessing evil enacted against the innocent – as we bear the emotional violence of the world – the isolation of anxiety – pandemic trauma – atrocities of war – all that awful stuff that reminds us that humanity has a profound need of healing, forgiveness, and transformation. The story of Jesus’ suffering takes on an urgency and a poignancy as we consider the inhumanity that still lies hidden within human hearts.
Each loss we experience places us in the shadow of the cross, wondering how this could be happening, agonizing over our powerlessness, waiting for the transformation promised by Jesus. What do we do in a time such as this – when the pain seems to be unending or we cannot save the one we love? Jesus’ statement of finality – it is finished – and Jesus’ cry of abandonment – in Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels – echo in our own souls. Our losses leave us radically vulnerable. Looking for explanations or finding someone to blame is not helpful in bearing enormous loss. Medication may (or may not) assist. So often, we cannot fix/amend/change it. This is woven into the fabric of life.
The story of the terrible suffering of Jesus teaches us some important things about the nature of God and about ourselves.
First, God loves us so deeply that entering our fragile and vulnerable reality is not only possible but necessary. Instead of watching us from a safe distance, the Holy One embraces the Incarnation, being born as a human, in order to transform our limited lives into eternal lives. (In the theology of the Franciscan John Duns Scotus – d. 1308 – the Incarnation is generated by divine Love, not as a response to original sinfulness.)
Then, God dignifies and sanctifies the burden of suffering and death by embracing it. This invalidates the concept that suffering is sent as punishment from God.
Finally, as we struggle with the painful mystery of suffering, our own Good Friday moments are sacred intersections with the life of God, who suffers with us out of Love. We ourselves cannot stop evil. We cannot erase the pain of the world. Signs of new life may not yet be visible in the profound shadows. And we are not alone. And new life will inevitably spring forth, as resurrection is a shared blessing.