We call this day, Good Friday, but what is so good about it?
A familiar Good Friday hymn asks “were you there” when they crucified my Lord, when they nailed him to the tree, when they pierced him in the side, when the sun refused to shine. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.
Were you there?
I was there because my sins nailed him to the tree, and my sins pierced his side, and the darkness of my sins blocked out the sun. Yes, I was there, and sometimes it causes me to tremble. But there is more to Good Friday than sin and trembling.
When you think of the passion of our Lord, your images may be influenced by many of the film versions of the story. There are countless artists’ renditions of parts of the passion story:
Maybe the betrayal of Judas with the kiss comes to mind and reminds us of how our sins are a betrayal of God’s love; or
Maybe the image of the agony in the garden and the “let this cup pass me by” scene that represents our sins as agony and a denial of the will of God for us plays in our mind; or
Maybe we think of the trial of Jesus and His silence and our silence in the face of our sinfulness compared to God’s love for us; or
Maybe we see Jesus stumbling along the way to Calvary and Simon of Cyrene being pressed into service to carry the cross and the hope for each of us that we too may take up the cross and follow Jesus.
All images and applications of the passion story which may captivate us, but none of these images come from the Gospel of John which we heard on Good Friday. These images come from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke but not from the Gospel that the Church chooses to use on Good Friday, the Gospel of John.
According to Raymond E. Brown, a noted Scripture scholar, the portrait of Jesus that John paints for us today is one of a Jesus who reigns even from the cross. John’s passion narrative presents a sovereign Jesus who has defiantly announced, “I lay down my life to take it up again; no one has taken it from me.” When Roman soldiers and Jewish police come to arrest him, they fall to earth powerless over the great I AM. In the garden, according to John, Jesus does not pray to be delivered from the hour of trial and death for this hour is the whole purpose of his life.
No Simon of Cyrene appears, for the Jesus of John’s Gospel carries His own cross. His royalty is proclaimed in three languages and confirmed by Pilate. Jesus is not alone on Calvary as in the other Gospels, for at the foot of the cross stands the Beloved Disciple and Mary, His mother.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus does not cry out, “why have you forsaken me” because the father is always with him. His final words are a solemn decision “It is finished.” His burial even speaks of his royalty as he lies amid a hundred pounds of spices as befits a king.
The Jesus we see in John’s account suffers human death, but reigns victoriously from the cross, in control of all that is happening.
We call this day, Good Friday, but what is so good about it? Is it only remembering our sinfulness and our trembling, or is it also experiencing the certain assurance of the absolute and unconditional love of Jesus Christ for you and for me and His single minded focus on doing the will of the Father in buying our salvation with His life that makes our remembrances this day good.