Once upon a time, a prophet named Martin Luther King said: “There is no crown without a cross. I wish we could get to Easter without going to Good Friday, but history tells us that we got to go by Good Friday before we can get to Easter. That’s the long story of freedom, isn’t it? Before you get to Canaan, you’ve got a Red Sea to confront. You have a hardened heart of a pharaoh to confront. You have the prodigious hilltops of evil in the wilderness to confront.”
On this solemn day, it is hard to wrap our minds, let alone our hearts, around Jesus willingly being humiliated and put to death. We live in a culture that doesn’t like talking about death because it takes us to a place of darkness and grief too difficult to bear. We deny it, ignore it, and do all in our power to avoid it. There is a tendency in our culture to pursue happiness at any cost. However, if we want to follow Jesus, we must confront death.
Imagine for a moment that you are there, that you are part of the scene. You’ll see a small group of courageous women gathered at the foot of the cross bravely witnessing the suffering of Jesus. Can you imagine Mary the mother of Jesus, watching her son in pain, being tortured, humiliated, and unable to reach out to him and ease his pain? I cannot imagine her anguish. The pain and the heartache she must have felt.
Twenty-two years ago, a shooter entered my daughter’s school. She was 12 years old. One adult was killed. One adult was physically injured. Many adults and children were emotionally injured. For the next few days afterwards, I wanted to keep my daughter close. It was with fear and courage that I sent her back to school reassuring her that it was safe.
I believe that the Mary we first read about in Luke’s gospel was a brave, young woman, who was willing to risk her reputation, her very life in order to obey God when God asked her to be the one to bear God’s son. I believe that God specifically chose her because of her bravery. Like any parent, Mary did not know what she was getting into, how her life would unfold and how the life of her child would turn out. Yet, when the shepherds came to see the baby Jesus lying in a manager praising God in the highest, Mary treasured their words and pondered them in her heart.
If and when we ever face heartache like Mary, the parents, spouses and children at Columbine or Sandy Hook or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we can look to the courage of Mary and bear witness to the suffering. In those moments of anguish, we have a choice. We can choose to become bitter, vengeful, and violent; or we can soften our hearts to trust in God’s compassion and love. We can choose not to close down or turn away from our grief. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love and to forgive. As Christians, we make that choice. In the face of death, the women wept and clung to one another. We don’t know if they spoke since their words aren’t recorded, but their silence –and their presence- was powerful.
What is Jesus’ response from the cross? What do we hear and learn as we picture ourselves at the scene? In the depths of his pain and his dying, he gives us words of comfort and release, of lamentation and love. He turns to his mother and places her in the hands of John. I believe this is more than Jesus wanting to make sure his widowed mother is taken care of. Presumably, she had other children to care for her. Instead, Jesus is asking that she and John become family.
Jesus is also telling us to form a new family, to create a new community where love embraces us and heals us. He is calling us to reconcile with one another and become part of a new creation. God is not acting out of retribution and wrath, but in compassion and mercy and in love and grace. It is here at the foot of the cross as Jesus looks down at Mary and John, a new heaven and earth meet. Jesus knows that in death is new life, through our struggles, we find strength.
We can’t avoid the suffering of this world. We can only go through it, believing Jesus carries us. Every day we must choose love over death. That decision determines our world view, guides our relationships, affects how we approach life’s circumstances and colors our image of God. Can we trust and see the love Jesus offers this day in our own lives, in the violence that surrounds us, in our losses and sufferings?
That is both the challenge and the claim of Good Friday. Pain is not the goal, but becoming vulnerable and risking to love and open ourselves to one another is. Jesus is showing us how to live. His death is the door to new life. It takes courage to tell a hurting, angry, divisive world, to a people who have lost faith or have never had faith that God loves them.
We have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to share our own stories of brokenness and hurt, and our struggles with one another. The core of the gospel is Jesus reconciling the world to God. If we’re not telling the story, than what are we offering as a church, as believers? It is through the stories we tell of our own deep pain and betrayals that others can begin to see that we are not perfect, we don’t have all the answers. But as Christians, our lives should reflect a power stronger than us, a love that binds us to God and to one another across all boundaries.
We are being called into a new way of life. The cross of Jesus was the ultimate revelation of true power and true love. It is a triumph of good over evil. It is about God who has come into the middle of our pain, and our sorrow, and taken the full face of it unto God’s Self. Through Jesus’ unconditional love, he makes known God’s love. Good Friday means the beginning of change.
Once upon a time, there was a prophet named Jesus who confronted our hardened hearts and gave us hope, who took away our brokenness and healed us through his love. “For now, we watch, we weep, we bear witness, we wait.” Amen.
Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook, Good Friday: Speaking, Still