A Prayerful Meditation on Good Friday
Good Friday. It has come upon us. It seems to have arrived so swiftly. The weeks of our spiritual preparation are over and we have come to this day again. Once again we are called to enter into and to reflect upon the events that took place on that final day, indeed, in those final hours of Jesus. It is not easy for us, but we must look at these things with courage and with humble hearts. This article, then, is written to provide us with a meditative journey through the events of that day. This reflection incorporates elements from all four gospels.
It was early in the morning. Just a few hours before, in the middle of the night, Jesus had been betrayed with a kiss from one of his original twelve apostles, Judas. Jesus has been brought before Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate wishes to have nothing to do with this, but the chief priests and the large crowds with them are burning with self-righteous indignation. Pilate asks Jesus, ʺAre you the king of the Jews?ʺ To which Jesus responds simply, ʺYou say so.ʺ The chief priests shout accusations against Jesus. Their voices are shrill and harsh. Pilate asks Jesus, ʺHave you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.ʺ And Jesus meets this question with silence. Pilate is amazed and says to the angry accusers, ʺI see no guilt in this man.ʺ But the chief priests and the crowd can not be silenced, even by this Roman Governor with all of his power.
Pilate, wanting to avoid making the decision the crowds are calling for, sends Jesus to Herod, because Jesus was a Galilean and under Herod’s jurisdiction. The chief priests and the scribes follow Jesus and his guards to Herod’s palace and keep up their loud cries of recrimination and false accusations. Herod and his soldiers even add to Jesus’ suffering by abusing him. Then Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate. Because it is the preparation day for Passover, Pilate tries another ploy to get out of the decision to condemn this man who he knows is innocent of the charges against him. He tries to mollify the crowd with the traditional freeing of a Jewish prisoner in honor of the Passover. He offers up a surly and foul soul named, Barabbas. The crowd becomes even more violent in their response and you can hear a voice shout, ʺCrucify him!ʺ Then the rest of the crowd joins in, ʺCrucify him.ʺ Their anger is palpable, raw, murderous. And Jesus remains silent before them. Pilate has come to Jerusalem from his own palace on the Mediterranean coast out of concern for potential riotous, and even rebellious behavior with so many Jews in Jerusalem for the high holy days of Passover. This is not good. He is uncomfortable, feels caught between a rock and a hard place. So Pilate, who knows that there is no evidence against Jesus, just wants to quell the unruly temper of the crowds before him. So he, dramatically and symbolically, washes his hands of it, then, with Roman indifference, hands Jesus over to his soldiers to be crucified.
Now the horror truly begins for Jesus. The soldiers take him down into the prison and begin to scourge him. They make a crown of thorns and push it down on his head until the thorns tear and puncture his skin and he begins to bleed. The pain is unimaginable, but Jesus remains quiet. They throw a purple cloak over his shoulders, that are scored with the angry, open wounds from the scourging. They spit at him and sneeringly salute him saying, ʺHail, King of the Jews.ʺ When they’ve grown tired of this, they rip the purple cloak off of Jesus shoulders. It has dried into the open wounds on his shoulders and he winces with pain as those wounds are made raw again. Then they roughly put his own clothes back on him and begin to lead him out to be crucified. Pilate has cynically written an inscription to be placed over Jesus’ head on the cross that reads, ʺJesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.ʺ This mortifies the chief priests and the scribes and they try to get Pilate to change it to, ʺHe said that he was King of the Jews.ʺ But Pilate says, ʺWhat I have written, I have written.ʺ
It is still before noon, Jesus is forced to carry the instrument of his crucifixion on his own shoulders, on the long path through the streets of Jerusalem and out to the place beyond the walls called, Golgotha, where he is to be executed. The people of Jerusalem line the streets. Some of them mock him along the way. Many are silent, or have tears in their eyes as they witness Jesus falling under the weight of the cross. A Cyrenean named, Simon, is conscripted from the crowd to help Jesus bear the wood of his cross. A group of women are wailing openly along the way, and Jesus addresses them, ʺWomen of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep for yourselves and your children…ʺ
Jesus is accompanied by two others, criminals, who are to be crucified with him. They arrive at the heights of Golgotha just before noon. The cross is assembled and Jesus is stripped of his garments and is laid upon the cross. The Roman soldiers place heavy iron nails into the palms of his hands and the tops of his feet and bring the hammers down on them driving them brutally into his soft flesh. The pain in excruciating, but the execution has only begun. Several of the soldiers have to man-handle the cross with its victim nailed to it now, to its upright position. As the cross thumps into the hole Jesus’ whole body is overwhelmed with the pain.
It is noon. The skies darken. The scribes and the priest stand below the cross, shaking their fists at Jesus and reviling him saying, ʺAha! You who would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross.ʺ And, ʺHe saved others; he cannot save himself.ʺ One of the criminals that was crucified next to Jesus, in angry, cynical desperation, shouts at Jesus, ʺAre you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.ʺ The other, seeing Jesus’ innocence, but something else too, something that only the Holy Spirit could have revealed to him, rebukes the other criminal and says, ʺHave you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? Indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.ʺ Then this man who has lived a life of crime, looks into Jesus’ eyes and with a sincerity that he has never know before says, ʺJesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.ʺ And Jesus, in the midst of his own terrible pain and suffering, bearing the whole weight all of human sin in his body, looks at this criminal with utter tenderness for him and breathes the words, ʺ Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.ʺ
It is three in the afternoon now. The darkened skies grow darker, the wind is rising, and thunder can be heard. Jesus looks up into the heavens and cries out in a loud voice, ʺEloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?ʺ ʺMy God, My God, why have you forsaken me?ʺ This causes a stir in the crowd. They think he is calling on Elijah and they wait to see if Elijah will come. Then Jesus cries out again in a loud voice, and his head drops to his chest and he ʺgives up his spirit.ʺ At that moment the earth quakes, those who were in the Temple see the veil over the holy sanctuary suddenly torn in two from top to bottom. One of the centurions below the cross is heard to say, ʺtruly, this was the Son of God!ʺ
There. It is over. It is done. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the true King of the universe, has accomplished the supreme act of love. He has lived his commandment out: ʺLove one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay one’s life down for one’s friends.ʺ (John 15:12-13)
So, the great mystery is before us again. We are called on this Good Friday over 2100 years later, to reflect again on this great mystery. Here is the one through whom all things were made, the one in whose image and likeness we ourselves were made, who has before our very eyes, let go of his divinity, taken on our nature, walked with us, taught us, and now, has died for us, to show us the depth of that love he has for us. In this sacrifice of love, Jesus has forgiven us, and made it possible for us to enter the Garden of our original innocence again. On this Good Friday, let us bend our knees before the cross in humble adoration of him. Nothing compares to this love he has shown us. All of human pride pales in significance before this great mystery of love that was made real for us over 2100 years ago, that remains real today.
Remember, too, the crucifixion had to be endured and gone through in order for the greatest event of all in human history to occur, the Resurrection. For the truth is that Jesus, the true Temple, was razed (pun intended) on that cross and he built it back up again in three days.