Above the front door of our home hangs a simple plaque, a wedding gift from friends. At the time of our wedding, I hardly knew these people, but Tom did. They are ‘sort of’ family – cousins of a cousin. They travelled all the way from Massachusetts to our wedding celebration. Although they are people of deep faith, I am sure they were not aware at the time that they were bringing Tom and me God’s inspiration for our lives.
“May the love that surrounds you today give you the strength to face your tomorrows.” For nearly fourteen years we have experienced the Truth and Grace of that blessing.
Today is Good Friday. This morning I sat down in my favorite chair to pray, to reflect on this day in our Easter story. The sun blazed through our living room window, filling my soul with God’s light and warmth. The scripture readings presented the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion in vivid detail. I couldn’t avoid the cruelty. I didn’t want to feel the pain. Yet as I read, I could think only of the plague of torture, cruelty, greed, violence that seems to be sucking up the goodness in this world as quickly as it is created. Calvary happens over and over again. Family violence, workplace abuse, residential schools, war, cruel dictatorships. Yes, Jesus’ crucifixion happens somewhere every day.
Last night our house overflowed with love. Our daughter, two of her grandchildren and two of our most cherished friends enjoyed food, conversation, memories, hugs. Each one of us was truly surrounded with God’s love. This morning as I think about Jesus, Good Friday, and our world, I am drawing on last night’s love, on the love that God has showered upon us as a family. With that love as my foundation, I have the strength to face the supreme cruelty of humankind. I can give thanks for God’s endless love shown to us through Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross. That love gives me the strength to offer myself in the struggle for goodness and peace.
I read our plaque as I step through our door, and know God’s love has given me hope for tomorrow.
For our Good Friday service a number of years ago, a professional actress in my congregation portrayed Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she stood at the base of the cross. Those of us who risked coming to worship that morning experienced some of the pain, horror, helplessness of the crucifixion of Jesus. After the service, many who were present said, “Please don’t make the Good Friday service so graphic. I don’t ever want to experience that again…”
Our inhumanity to our fellow human beings didn’t begin or end with Jesus. Every day we hear and see pictures of soldiers dying in wars around the world. Film clips and books written about life in refugee camps, the direct result of war, touch our hearts. Like the story of the crucifixion, we don’t want the pain of these experiences to penetrate our hearts.
In Jesus’ time, torture and death by crucifixion was the absolute worst punishment. Yet even in the midst of his pain, his disappointment with us, the story tells us that God spoke words of love through Jesus – “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) God’s loving mercy poured forth from the cross.
Holy Friday is a story about God showing us unconditional love. God became flesh and walked among us as Jesus. His stories called us to love our neighbours and our enemies. His teaching called us to let go of tradition that was imprisoning us. He accepted us all, Jew and Gentile, as God’s beloved children. Jesus’ last act of love was his excruciating death on the cross. Jesus lived God loving us at our worst, just as we are.
We tell this story because we need to see our role in the horror of today’s chaos. We need to feel Mary’s all-consuming grief at the base of the cross. Only through experiencing some of the pain and horror, can we begin to understand the depth of God’s forgiveness. Good Friday becomes Holy when we allow our hearts to open even a tiny crack and feel the desolation of the crucifixion. Through that crack, God slips in with a love so strong and deep that it brings new life.