Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day we commemorate and honor the death of Jesus. It is a worthwhile thing to do, to honor the death of a person, especially a person whose life means a great deal to us. We need time to mourn, to close the book, to open up to a new life without that person in it. This doesn’t have to be maudlin or unhealthy, but can be very healthy and appropriate. There’s a reason we honor the crucifixion each year on Good Friday, and it’s not for all the blood and guts and agony and torture.
The lectionary readings for Good Friday include the Passion story from John’s gospel and the psalm we hear echoed in the last words of Jesus from Mark’s account. We hear a startling song about God’s topsy-turvy kingdom from the prophet Isaiah, and we have two options from the letter to the Hebrews.
This year, as I reflected on the readings for Palm Sunday, I found myself surprised at how very human the Passion story is. This second reading from the letter to the Hebrews is about human-ness, too.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications,
with loud cries and tears,
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;
and having been made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
In the person of Jesus, God has given us a wonderful gift. Because Jesus was not only fully divine, but also fully human, we worship a savior who has experienced the world just as we have. Jesus began his life as a helpless infant, just as we do, having to rely on others for his most basic needs. He grew up with a mother and a father, and he went to synagogue and temple, and he studied the scriptures. Jesus experienced death when his adopted father Joseph passed away. Jesus had indigestion and toothaches; he scratched itches and picked his nose; he burped and spit up, he got bruises and scratches, and he even pooped.
How can we ever say that our God doesn’t understand us? Our God became a human being for us! We see in the gospels that Jesus had both friends and enemies. How do you imagine it felt for him to go home to Nazareth after starting his ministry, to preach in the synagogue, and to have his townspeople — the folks he’s known for his entire life — try to toss him off a cliff? It probably felt great to get the better of blind and hypocritical authorities, but I imagine that he wept inside at the same time, for their willful blindness. Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends — not by Judas sleeping with his wife, or badmouthing Jesus so that Judas would get that big promotion instead, but to arrest and execution. When we are hurt because a friend’s gossip has betrayed us, we cannot say that God doesn’t understand our pain and anger. Who could possibly understand this better?
But this wonderful gift gets even better. On that Friday so long ago, Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross. With him was nailed all of his humanity: his indigestion and toothaches, his itches and boogers, his burps and bruises and scratches, the times he was rejected, the betrayals of other humans, the frustration at confronting blindness and ignorance over and over again. And each year on Good Friday, we get to nail these things to the cross, too. We get to nail up our own bellyaches and sore throats and aching joints, our anger and fear and frustration, our arguments and betrayals, our rotten bosses and cheating husbands and backtalking kids, our depression and anxiety and rage. It all goes up there, to be destroyed with the human body of Jesus.
We’re pretty lucky to know the rest of the story, too. We know that we’re looking forward to an amazing transformation. We know that what gets nailed to the cross on Good Friday becomes something entirely new on Easter morning when the stone is rolled away. But for now, we will live in Good Friday. We will do honor to the death of our human savior, and we will do honor to all of those awful things that die with Jesus. We will open our hands, letting go of those dark things that hold us down, releasing our anger and fear, frustration and anxiety. And through Jesus, God will make those things perfect.
It is a good day. It is a Good Friday.
Thanks be to God!