The journey was at an end. Jesus was quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The soldier felt for the depression at the front of the wrist; he drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly. The title ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ was nailed into place, and the crossbar lifted into position. The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, tows down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.
I am at a loss to think of a more horrible way to die, nor can I fathom willingly choosing to do so and I assume that I am not alone in that sentiment. However, no matter how horrible it was, Jesus’s death alone has no meaning. People die in horrible ways all the time, both 2000 years ago and today and most of the time our feelings of horror last no longer than it takes us to scroll to the next story or move on to the next task, and that is how most people treat Good Friday. It is treated as just another day, the day that marks the death of Jesus, something to make note of in passing, but nothing more. In an attempt to get more people to pay attention, we could try make the argument that what makes Jesus death special is that he willingly chose to die out of obedience to God, but again thousands of people in human history have chosen to go to their death for many reasons and we don’t pay any more attention to their deaths than we do anyone else’s. So, if the death Jesus isn’t made significant or even special by the fact that he chose death, why are we here? Why do we choose to gather to remember this event, year after year?
The short response to these questions is that we gather to remember the death of Jesus because we know it is important enough for us to give time and energy to it, even though we may not be able to explain why. The slightly longer answer draws our eyes to Easter. The reason the death of Jesus is so important is because he did not remain dead. It is in Jesus’s resurrection, not in his death, that we find hope for the future. But if that is the case, why not just skip to Easter, like most people do? Most people treat Good Friday as just another day and then put on their Sunday best for Easter; but attempting to celebrate Easter without Good Friday is like trying to bake bread without yeast. The bread will cook, it might even resemble bread, but it will not be the real deal.
Good Friday is not only about remembering Christ’s death, it is about preparing ourselves for Easter, it is also about taking count of the things that separate us from God, as well as the things that cause us to suffer. Once we have taken count, then we must make the conscious decision to allow those things to die because it is in letting those things die that we can fully experience the joy of an open and loving relationship with God, which we gain through the resurrection of Jesus. The death of Jesus has meaning because of the good that comes out of it. With his resurrection Jesus proves that with God even death can be defeated. But yet, with our own relationship with God we expect the life-giving Joy of Easter without the death. If we want to have a true relationship with God, then we must learn to let go of the things that separate us.
Last night the altar was stripped of all its trappings to remind us that God is not found in the fair linens, in the candlesticks, or even the altar cross. God is not found in any man-made thing; God is not found in our anxiety, in our fear, in our suffering or in any other idol we create, whether it is physical or emotional. God is found in every one of us and is waiting for us to die to the idols in our lives and to turn ourselves over to the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can fully know God’s love and be the creatures of Love and compassion we were created to be. God gave us the gift of free will and because of that gift God will not take away our suffering because God did not cause our suffering, God gave us the ability to choose because love without choice is not love and in return for that gift we choose to replace God with idols. It is our actions and our words that cause all of creation to suffer and it is our actions and our words that separate us from God. Even though we have rejected God’s love, time and time again, God has not given up, instead God came among us to show us the path back. The story of Jesus’s death and resurrection is a package deal and our lives need to be the same. Jesus had faith that if he put his trust in God, no harm would come to him and he was right. We have the same choice to make, do we cling to the world the way it is, or do we trust God to lead us to a better life? If we truly want to know God and let God into our lives then we must let go of the things that interfere with our relationship with God, we must let go of our pain, of our suffering, of our anxiety, of our love of things, of our obsessions, of our need to be in control and let them die with Jesus on the cross, so that we too can experience the resurrection in all its glory. Amen