by Lexiann Grant
Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death,…
and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;
Wisdom 2:19-20a, 22
By Good Friday I’m spiritually exhausted.
After fumbling through Lent, contemplating whether I sincerely repented of anything, or tried hard enough to live those forty days in a contrite or penitent manner, by Maundy Thursday, I’m done. The service for the evening has always been the pre-Easter high point for me.
Even with the profound absence of the Presence — church stripped and shrouded, altar dark, the Body of Christ hidden away — set against the contrast of the institution of the Eucharist, this commemoration touches my heart and mind at the mystical level.
Good Friday has never reached into me the same way. I cannot fathom how or why people intentionally choose to perpetrate such inhumane torment on one another. Nor can I bear to watch that level of suffering in any living being, particularly in someone so compassionate and good. Somewhere along the Stations of the Cross, I falter, lose focus and turn away, failing to experience it in the manner I suspect I should.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for what was carried out for us. And the events of the day make it obvious why humankind was – is — in need of redemption. Regardless, the savage acts of brutality, in which the executioners seemed to revel, sicken me to the soul and repulse me.
How would we have lived Jesus’ passion? What would each of us have done?
Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 that he wanted “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,”.
I’m ashamed to admit I might’ve run away, agreeing to anything to save myself from the pain.
Maybe that’s why I cringe at the liturgy of Good Friday, a ritual born of torture and terror — so much physical and mental suffering for Jesus, as well as the intense emotional suffering of Mary and his devoted followers. Although Jesus tried to prepare them for this penultimate moment, to the observers the day doubtlessly crushed their hopes and seemed without purpose.
At the end of that Friday, his followers did not yet know the end of the story.
What if…? If only…?
Just like the story of the Titanic, every time we hear it, we can’t help but wonder if just one simple action or better answer would’ve changed the outcome.
That day moved between exaltation and debasement, faith and disbelief, dreams and despair, between burial and nothingness, and resurrection to fullness of life.
Like the seasons of earth, now caught between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, or, our lives balanced between the end of pandemic and the still-active virus, Good Friday is a time suspended between past and future.
The “why” and “what next” were great unknowns. We were waiting, poised between, as Rite II Eucharistic prayer B says, error and truth, sin and righteousness, death and life.
Why would Jesus willingly offer himself for this? Why was this God’s plan? Our soteriological doctrine explains it, but do we really get it? Is it as theologians and philosophers have repeatedly postulated– that there can be no reconciliation without sacrifice? No joy without sorrow or suffering?
The Preface and Collects for Easter include these hints of the forthcoming answer: “by his death he has destroyed death” … “that we may evermore live with him in joy.”
And Paul in Hebrews writes, “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross,”.
Our non-god minds cannot fully grasp or understand the meaning though we may wear ourselves out with trying. It is a holy mystery. “Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died.
And though on crucifixion day, it was not known for certain then:
“Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Not meant to be solved, maybe that’s the way it should remain, to keep us coming back to the Source for more.
By Easter we know the end of the story, but I sometimes wonder whether we should look at Good Friday as though we did not. Maybe then the gravity of the sacrifice would bring us to our knees with gratitude and love. Maybe each Good Friday we could abide between death and resurrection, pondering, so that each commemoration, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “makes us think of a great mystery to be discovered little by little.” 1
“Now my tongue the mystery telling,
of the glorious Body sing
and the Blood all price excelling,
….shed for this world’s ransoming. 2
Our sins not thine thou bearest,
Make us thy sorrow feel
Till through our pity and our shame,
Love answers love’s appeal.
Give us compassion for thee Lord
That as we share this hour
Thy cross may bring us to thy joy
and resurrection power. 3
…Types and shadows have their ending,
for the newer rite is here;
Faith our outward sense befriending,
makes our inward vision clear.” 2
Compilation of portions of Passiontide/Lenten hymns
1 Homily 1/1/2008 St. Peter’s Basilica
2 Thomas Aquinas, ver. 1940 Hymnal; 1982 Hymnal pg 329
3 Peter Abelard, 1982 Hymnal pg 164
Lexiann Grant is a retired writer & author, a former chalicer and layreader, but still an Episcopalian who enjoys encountering God in the mountain backcountry.