What is good about Good Friday?
As a child, pondering the horrible pain and suffering wrapped up in the Christian Passion narrative, I often asked this question. What is good about something that, on the surface, is so horrible?
This question has taken on special meaning for me this year, as we — both Christians and non-Christians — have had to look for the good in a dark and depressing time.
Jesus’ walk through Holy Week — from the hosannas of Palm Sunday to the ringing of the hammer atop Golgotha and the sealing of the tomb — is central to the faith of the world’s estimated 2.4 billion Christians. But, Holy Week carries lessons for us all, I think, regardless of how we view faith.
Jesus begins this week 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 — a path defined not by worldly might, but by humility, love and sacrifice.
What would our policies look like if they were crafted in humility, love and sacrifice, instead of on the anvil of greed and power-lust?
The night before he died, Jesus prepared for the Last Supper with a ritual liturgical Christians still repeat today — he humbled himself, knelt and washed the feet of his followers.
Why would the great kneel to wash the feet of the weak? This is not the behavior we would expect from the definition we’ve crafted of “greatness.” This is the way of one who leads, and teaches us to lead, by selfless sacrifice and loving service.
Jesus tells the disciples, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you,” and soon after, commands them: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
What would our world look like, if we demanded leaders who saw themselves first as servants? What would it look like if we all determined to rise by kneeling — to live in humility, serving and loving those around us?
And finally, we come back to today — to Good Friday. In a society that increasingly calls us to worldly power, to the temptations of empire and enterprise, Good Friday calls us back to the path of humility, peace and self-sacrificial love.
Good Friday is the capstone of Christ’s teaching-by-example. Even as he is being scorned, tortured and subjected to a horrifying death, Jesus continues to teach us by his words and acts.
In each step along the Via Dolorosa — the Sorrowful Way — Jesus leaves us lessons. They are lessons we can use in this time to transform our lives, and our society.
Stand with Jesus as he’s ridiculed and mocked (Luke 23:11). Learn to not lash out in anger, but persevere in quiet determination.
Mingle with the crowd as they cry for the murderer Barabbas (Luke 23:22-25). How does our society favor violence and the implements of death over peace and equality?
Watch, and feel, as the scourge tears into his back (Matthew 27:26). In what ways does our society lash out at the poor, the marginalized and those who speak the truth?
Feel the crown of thorns pressed into his flesh (Matthew 27:29-31). How do our power structures continue to mock those in need?
Walk with him to Golgotha. See the crowd’s apathy toward tyranny and injustice. How do we reflect that crowd today?
Stand atop Calvary. Feel the hammer strikes. Hear the cries of pain and anguish. Smell the blood. Then listen again: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Where do we need to sow forgiveness?
Sit with the soldiers, their hands still bloody. In what ways do we bloody our hands? How do we nail to the cross the bodies of God’s downtrodden children, with our greed and our hard-hearted indifference?
Take the place of the penitent sinner, and hear Christ’s consoling promise: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) In our darkest hour, how can we seek grace for others?
Now, stand with Mary. Wet your hands with her tears. How many mothers today will bear witness to the violent deaths of their children, as an indifferent world passes by?
For those who persecute and kill him, Jesus prays “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” How can we sow this kind of selfless love into the world?
So, what is good about Good Friday? It is love. It is love poured out into a world in need. It is a love that calls us to follow, to love others in a way that topples greed and injustice.
Whether you are reading this as a Christian, a follower of some other faith, as an atheist or as a person of undefined faith, know that love calls to you.
And if we use this time, this transformational time, to mold our society into something that better reflects that love — well, that truly will be good.