Today is Good Friday on the Western Christian calendar. Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters will celebrate the same in a few days.
After the show trials before religious and secular authorities, the beatings by soldiers who will gamble for his garment and the ravings of a rent-a-crowd, Jesus of Nazareth in crucified between two criminals on a small hill outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Even in his death his detractors dare him to perform miracles to save himself while his followers either scatter in fear or watch in incredulity and sorrow as he experiences unspeakable agony.
While suffering, Jesus asks his Father to forgive the perpetrators of this heinous crime and finds time to offer absolution to a repentant thief.
From noon to three, a veil of darkness shrouds the scene as the One called the King of the Jews endures unutterable agony and alienation, the bearing the pain and penalty, alienation from God and humankind, and, in the end, a peace as he declares, “It is finished!”
What just happened?
According to the earliest Christian confessions in both the New Testament and first-centur literature, Jesus died for the sins of the world, bearing the judgment of God for humankind’s rebellion. Jesus is both the sinless representative and atoning substitute of guilty humanity. In his death is satisfaction of divine justice and the expression of unconditional love. His death bears all the deserved and undeserved suffering of humankind, from Adam to the Apocalypse. In his cry of, “Why?” are all the unanswered questions of our circumstances. And in his words of comfort to the humble thief are the seeds of hope as we already glimpse that death itself is defeated in the death of Jesus. And when Jesus declares, “it is finished” and “into you hands I commit my spirit” we see the triumph of hope over despair, mercy over wrath and love over all.
From noon to three the world is reconciled, an amnesty offered a race of rebels as uncompromising holiness and unconditional love embrace on a wooden stake. These hours do not explain evil – the Cross defeats its. These hours do not remove us from challenges – they offer strength to endure, knowing that Easter Sunday is coming.
This is the Good News of Good Friday, the cruciform heart of the Christian faith. All the “red letters” – the words and works of Jesus of Nazareth – are proclaimed and performed with this moment in mind. From Advent to Trinity, from a babe in the creche to a man on a Cross, all of the divine search for lost humankind culminates in this moment of passionate embrace.
May we receive this love once again…and share it across the street and around the world with boldness, humility and wisdom.