Good Friday falls on March 30 and in churches worldwide, the entire story of Christ’s Passion and death will be read aloud.
The narrative shocks and saddens me whenever I hear it, especially when I envision the savagery enacted against an innocent man on that day long ago.
There’s the bitter betrayal by Judas, which has always mystified me. Was the money worth seeing his friend dragged away by guards wielding swords?
This friend had lain face down in the Garden of Gethsemane, anguishing over the events that would inevitably unfold. This friend, the night before, had bent down and washed Judas’ feet.
There’s Pontius Pilate who can’t find a real reason to condemn Jesus, but is too cowardly to buck the crowds. And his frantic wife, warning him to back off because she had an ominous dream about this man claiming to be the “Son of God.”
There’s the bloodthirsty crowd clamoring for crucifixion and willing to pardon Barabbas, a murderer, rather than set Jesus free.
There’s Peter, a good friend who’s so scared of sharing Jesus’ fate that he denies the relationship.
“I tell you, I don’t know the man!”
And in the midst of the screaming, the confusion, the hand-wringing, the questioning, the blood lust, stands a silent man whose crimes include raising the dead, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind and restoring hearing to the deaf.
A man who banished demons, fed the crowds and invited children closer.
In the Passion narrative, he’s sent like a lamb to slaughter, but first he’s beaten, spat upon, slapped, stripped, mocked, pierced with thorns— then forced to bear a cross so heavy that he stumbles and falls.
Seen simply as a moment in history, the tale is tragic enough. Even non-believers cringe when hearing about the torture and death of a man who spent his life helping others.
From the Christian perspective, however, the crucifixion isn’t just a historical event that’s over and done with.
The torture and death of Christ are ongoing today — and each of us wields the hammer that pounded the nails through his flesh.
Christ is crucified when Christian communities are bombed by terrorists in the Middle East — and faraway people like us turn our backs on the savagery.
Christ is crucified when families are ripped apart by divorce, because someone got bored and couldn’t resist a mid-life fling.
Christ is crucified when thousands of babies worldwide are destroyed every day in the womb.
Whenever children aren’t put first, but instead are neglected, belittled and bruised by people who should be protecting them.
He is crucified whenever a baby is beaten and killed by a raging parent. Whenever a teenager is enticed into immoral actions by an adult.
Every time we watch violent, sexually charged movies because they’ve somehow become commonplace. Whenever we turn our backs on the poor and indulge in luxuries for ourselves.
On Good Friday, as the Passion story is read aloud, so many questions well up in my heart.
Do I deny knowing Christ like Peter did? Do I fear being ostracized by friends and family who find religion laughable?
Do I, like Pilate, wash my hands of the world’s horrors because they’re unbearable to ponder?
Am I living an easy, comfortable life instead of choosing the “narrow way” Jesus mentioned? Which includes accepting whatever tragedies come along as part of God’s mysterious will for my life.
Which includes picking up the cross — whether it’s cancer, widowhood, divorce, disability or poverty — and following Christ to that lonely spot on Golgotha.
Am I continuing to crucify him?
My prayer is that Good Friday will spur a true inner conversion, a turning of my heart and mind completely to the one who was bloodied, bullied and beaten. The one who died long ago but still lives.
The one who accepted every insult, every wound and piercing, out of love for me.
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