Good Friday, or God’s Friday, is the most solemn day of the Christian year, when we remember the mock trials of Jesus, His condemnation by the Jewish Council and by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, and His death on the cross. Many churches and Christian gatherings hold vigils, read through the account in one of the Gospels and meditate on what Jesus accomplished for us by offering His life willingly to break the cycle of sin and death. Often Jesus’ ‘Seven Last Words from the Cross’ are the focus of meditation, song and teaching. Sometimes nails are hammered into a real cross in the church or gathering place.
As the soldiers were hammering the nails into Jesus’ arms and feet, and lifting Him up on the cross – a truly agonising experience for the Lord – He cried out, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ This is an amazing example of forgiveness to us all. If Jesus was able to seek forgiveness for those soldiers who had hurt Him so badly, what should be the level of our own ability to forgive? When He gave the disciples the special prayer we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ He said to them, ‘If you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive you.’
Perhaps the most poignant moment came as Jesus spoke to His mother, Mary (see August 15th), and ‘the disciple Jesus loved’, widely believed to be John the Beloved, who leant against Jesus’ breast at the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples (see Maundy Thursday and December 27th). With great compassion for them both, Jesus commended His mother into John’s care for the rest of her days. Here is another great example to us of bearing one another’s burdens.
Towards the end we are face with the desolation of the cross, as Jesus cries, ‘My God, my God, why have You forgotten me?’ Whilst these are words from Psalm 22, they also echo the tragic feelings of Jesus as He shared in the human experience of the absence of the Father. It is as if Jesus is thinking, ‘Is everything I have worked for of no value? Will even my life itself be lost completely? Where is the powerful One upon whom I have depended all these years?’ How do we answer these questions when we know these experiences for ourselves? Jesus seems to be given no immediate answer, and yet a kind of triumph and peace are echoed in His last words: ‘It is accomplished!’ and ‘Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.’ The last words are the traditional prayer every Jewish boy was taught to say as he lay down his head to sleep every night, in expectation of a ‘little resurrection’ the next morning by the grace of God.
As the dead Jesus is taken down from the cross and cradled in His mother’s arms, as His body is placed in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (see March 17th), there seems little likelihood of that prayer being answered.
Lord God, give me the grace of forgiveness, the grace of compassion towards all whom You bring my way, the faith that You are still around even when it seems to me that You have gone, and the powerful hope of commending my spirit regularly into Your hands. Amen.