In a society that increasingly calls us to worldly power, to the temptations of empire and enterprise, today — Good Friday — calls us back to The Way, to the path of humility, peace and self-sacrificial love.
We know today as the day of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But, it also is the capstone of Christ’s teaching-by-example. Everything Christ taught us by word, especially of the Beatitudes and the greatest commandment, is lived in Jesus’ own acts during the interval between Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
Humility, mourning, meekness, a thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, living as a peacemaker — everything Jesus called us to live, he lives out himself during Holy Week. And today, we reach the last, and hardest, of the Beatitudes: to see blessings in persecution of the righteous, to give praise for insults and false accusations.
Jesus begins this last week of his ministry riding on a donkey — a sign of a king coming in peace, instead of war. Just as we clamor for military might today, the Jews welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem clamored for a mighty king who could lead them in war. Instead, Jesus teaches — then and now — the path of Christ conquers not by worldly might, but through humility, love and sacrifice.
The teaching by word culminates on Maundy Thursday, named for the Latin term “mandatum,” meaning “command,” when Jesus instructs us: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
This command, to love as Christ loves, comes after one of Jesus’ ultimate acts of humility. At the beginning of the Last Supper, knowing he soon will be betrayed and die, Jesus takes off his outer clothing, wraps a towel around his waist, kneels before each disciple, and gently, lovingly washes their feet.
This is not the behavior of a king who lives by the ways of this world. This is The Way of our true king, who leads, and teaches us to lead, by selfless sacrifice and loving service.
The example is lived, and set, for us all in John 13:14-15: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
We are called to rise by kneeling, to live in humility, serving and loving those around us.
In the ultimate act of servant-leadership, and teaching by example, Jesus begins the next morning — today — the long, excruciating journey to Golgotha.
Even as he is being scorned, tortured and subjected to a horrifying death, Jesus continues to teach us by his words and acts. For those who persecute and kill him, he prays “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” To the criminal who never will be able to make worldly amends for his crimes, Jesus assures grace: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And, finally, his human walk concluded, Jesus surrenders, and teaches us to surrender, to God’s will: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Jesus lives each of these hard lessons, not only to atone for our human failings, but to teach us how to follow him — to teach us to how to walk with him into the Kingdom of God.
That walk begins again today, and every day, for each of us. And how do we walk The Way? Where does it lead?
Jesus tells us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
To follow Christ means continually going back to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa — The Way of Sorrow — where we must take up the weight of our cross, and begin anew our walk with Christ.
At the end of that walk is glory. But, true glory is only attained on the other end of this walk — the walk of humility, love and sacrifice.