Good Friday is the painful vision of humanity at our very worst. I am horrified by what I see there. A good man extinguished. A man who devoted his life to doing good, to healing the sick, welcoming the outcast, forgiving those broken by their guilt, honouring the shamed, standing with the poor and challenging those who kept them poor.
His goodness was met by the most cynical abuse of power; betrayal by one of his good friends and abandonment by the others; the mad bloodlust that swept through the crowd like a virus, turning ordinary people into vicious haters; soldiers who, with the chilling disregard fostered by impunity, spat on him, mocked him, and beat him; execution by the most humiliating and painful instrument of torture, stripped naked, nailed to a wooden cross, surrendered to the desperate struggle between the innate drive to life and the creeping weariness that ends in asphyxiation. It was despicably cruel.
It is horrendous enough that this is done to a man, doubly so that it is done to a man who is God incarnate. Albeit not meant in the way Nietzche intended, the words he places on the lips of his madman are appropriate:
Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto”
It’s important to stare into the face of evil presented in the Good Friday story. It is a window through which I more clearly see my world and a mirror held up to better see myself. How did those religious leaders, sincere and devoted, slide into conspiracy to murder? When did Pilate first make the compromises with power that allowed him to condemn the innocent? How could the crowd that hailed Jesus one day turn so violently against him the next? How was it that Judas saw everything Jesus had done, yet was so overcome by greed that he sold him out? Why did fear get the better of Peter and drive him to deny he even knew Jesus?
These were people just like me. They weren’t monsters. They were just ordinary people who had families they went home to, friends with whom they laughed and to whom they showed great loyalty, hopes and dreams.
This is why I need Good Friday; why we need Good Friday. To remind us of what we can be, of the potential for evil that resides in us and our world; to remember, as Solzenitzen said, “that the dividing line between good and evil runs through every human heart”. By staring into the heart of evil we lay it bare, expose its destructiveness, and recoil in horror. We are forced to confront the reality that evil is perperated by people like us, driving us to be honest about our own brokenness and vigilant about following Jesus in doing good.
Fail to do this and we perpetuate the myth of our untainted goodness and the evils which hide under its cover
It’s Friday. Jesus is arrested in the garden where He was praying. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The disciples are hiding and Peter’s denying that he knows the Lord. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is standing before the high priest of Israel, silent as a lamb before the slaughter. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is beaten, mocked, and spit upon. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Those Roman soldiers are flogging our Lord with a leather scourge that has bits of bones and glass and metal, tearing at his flesh. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The Son of man stands firm as they press the crown of thorns down into his brow. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. See Him walking to Calvary, the blood dripping from His body. See the cross crashing down on His back as He stumbles beneath the load. It’s Friday; but Sunday’s a coming.
It’s Friday. See those Roman soldiers driving the nails into the feet and hands of my Lord. Hear my Jesus cry, “Father, forgive them.” It’s Friday; but Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, bloody and dying. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The sky grows dark, the earth begins to tremble, and He who knew no sin became sin for us. Holy God who will not abide with sin pours out His wrath on that perfect sacrificial lamb who cries out, “My God, My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?” What a horrible cry. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. And at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil of the Temple that separates sinful man from Holy God was torn from the top to the bottom because Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, heaven is weeping and hell is partying. But that’s because it’s Friday, and they don’t know it, but Sunday’s a coming.
And on that horrible day 2000 years ago, Jesus the Christ, the Lord of glory, the only begotten Son of God, the only perfect man died on the cross of Calvary. Satan thought that he had won the victory. Surely he had destroyed the Son of God. Finally he had disproved the prophecy God had uttered in the Garden and the one who was to crush his head had been destroyed. But that was Friday.
Now it’s Sunday. And just about dawn on that first day of the week, there was a great earthquake. But that wasn’t the only thing that was shaking because now it’s Sunday. And the angel of the Lord is coming down out of heaven and rolling the stone away from the door of the tomb. Yes, it’s Sunday, and the angel of the Lord is sitting on that stone and the guards posted at the tomb to keep the body from disappearing were shaking in their boots because it’s Sunday, and the lamb that was silent before the slaughter is now the resurrected lion from the tribe of Judah, for He is not here, the angel says. He is risen indeed.
It’s Sunday, and the crucified and resurrected Christ has defeated death, hell, sin and the grave. It’s Sunday. And now everything has changed. It’s the age of grace, God’s grace poured out on all who would look to that crucified lamb of Calvary. Grace freely given to all who would believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary was buried and rose again. All because it’s Sunday.
And Sunday’s coming!
As told by Tony Campolo
It has always struck me as strange that we refer to the day of Jesus’ death as Good Friday. Shouldn’t it be “Bad Friday” or “Evil Friday”, or some similar term? Was this not a day when evil was at its worst, unleashing its hatred and fury on One who had done nothing but love extravagantly? It’s on this day I want to immerse myself in Auden’s funeral poem, with it’s final stanza
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Yet ironically, it’s right here when evil is at it’s pinnacle that I glimpse goodness. Here at the cross we see humankind at our worst, but God at his best. As the Son of God hung there in agony, he could have cried out “Father, destroy them”, but almost incomprehensively he cried “Father forgive.” Even when people pummelled him with blows both physical and emotional Jesus still sought nothing but their good.
And this is why I think it’s a good Friday. Not a laugh-out-load, flippant goodness, but a reflective, humbling goodness. For here God took upon himself all the evil that can be thrown at him and said “I forgive you.” It’s here I discover who God is and learn that he is very, very good.
Today is Palm Sunday. It’s the day we remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, greeted by crowds waving palm fronds and acclaim him the descendent of David, come to reclaim his throne.
I write while sitting in an airplane, 35,000 feet above the ground, hurtling through the air at hundreds of kilometres an hour. What relevance can this story of an ancient prophet on a donkey have for the world I live in? He inhabited a world of donkeys, parchment and peasants. I inhabit a world of airplanes, laptops and businesspeople.
It turns out there is not so great a distance between us as I imagine. His world, like mine, is one where violence, oppression and exploitation are routine events. Roman taxes were forcing peasant farmers to take loans they couldn’t repay, with the wealthy elites using this as an excuse to take their land, leaving the farmers in dire poverty. In my world multinational corporations exploit the resources of the world’s poor, and instead of fair compensation pay poverty level wages and illegally spirit hundreds of billions of tax dollars out of those countries via illegal tax evasion.
His world was one where the wealthy indulged themselves in fine clothes, spectacular building programs and all sorts of comforts, while beggars starved outside their gates. My world is one where there has never been more wealth, nor more poor.
His world was one where under the rhetoric of securing peace a great and violent Empire occupied his country. Soldiers routinely extorted money from residents, and rebellion was ruthlessly crushed. My world is one where under the rhetoric of securing peace a great and violent Empire has effectively occupies Afghanistan and has wreaked havoc through its invasion of Iraq, which sees soldiers abusing prisoners, and where rebellion is ruthlessly crushed.
As he rode into Jerusalem the crowds erupted with hope. “Hosanna to the Son of David” they cried. I wonder what they imagined? David was a violent man who used force to conquer his enemies, who pillaged villages and slaughtered the inhabitants to eliminate any witness to his crimes, who on his deathbed advised his son to inaugurate his reign with the murder of his rivals. Did they imagine this Son of David would follow in his father’s footsteps? That he would meet Roman violence with a greater violence?
If so they must have been sorely disappointed, for the Son of David met violence with nothing more and nothing less than truth, love and forgiveness. His answer to Roman violence was to break the cycle of violence by refusing to strike back. His answer to the scheming of the powerful was to break the cycle of plot and counterplot by offering only forgiveness.
He brokered a new way, a path followed by Ghandi, Martin Luther King and others. In the words of the apostle Paul, he didn’t repay evil with evil, but overcame evil with good.
To many it seemed futile. Thirty years after Jesus entered Jerusalem those who preferred to meet violence with violence joined an armed insurrection. The result was one of history’s bloodiest wars and thousands of deaths.
This Palm Sunday, as I hurtle through the air at 35,000 feet, I realise that the story of Jesus is as relevant as ever. I dare not become anaesthetised to the evil in my world but want to follow him to the very centre of evil, to confront it not with violence, hatred and vengefulness, but with hope, love, peace and forgiveness.
If there is a universal symbol of Christianity today it is undoubtedly the cross. But in the first three hundred years of the church it was the fish.
The fish symbol was particularly significant during outbreaks of persecution. Because it had been used by pagans it aroused little suspicion. Christians would mark the symbol on meeting places to indicate their presence and on tombs to mark the faith of the person who had died. It is also reported that when a Christian was on the road and came across a stranger, the Christian would draw an arc in the sand. This was one half of the fish symbol. If the stranger drew the other half both travellers knew they were believers.
The symbol appears to have been adopted due to the fact that in Greek the letters making up the word “fish” formed an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”. This was a tremendously dangerous thing to claim, for the Roman Emperor was worshipped using exactly the same language, presenting himself and his Empire as the path to peace. By proclaiming Jesus as Son of God and Saviour the early Christians rejected the Emperor’s claim. The king they followed represented a radically different vision and set of values. They sought a kingdom based on worship of the God revealed by Jesus, not a multiplicity of Roman gods; service rather than violence; love rather than force; embrace of the marginalised rather than the privileging of Roman citizens; care for the poor rather than their neglect. They knew that their Lord had been crucified on a Roman cross, but rather than signalling the triumph of Rome over Christ, the resurrection signalled the triumph of Christ and his way.
When a Christian of old drew that arc in the sand, she was making a statement: I follow Jesus and seek first his kingdom, not Caesar and his.
I want to do the same. I want to keep hold of that revolutionary fervour, that commitment to a kingdom marked by love, grace, inclusion and justice; the unashamed worship of the God of Jesus; the practice of a new way of living that is prepared to go up against the values of the age; the devotion to the poor, exploited and oppressed in the name of King Jesus.
I want to draw an arc in the sand. What about you?
This Easter, why not give something more meaningful than chocolate and give the gift of fish! You’ll help put out a line and enable groups to be trained in fish raising in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal. This means a new supply of fish for income generation and a lifeline for the family’s diet. There’s nothing fishy about that!