Here we are between the Hosannas of Palm Sunday and the Hallelujahs of Easter confronted with another act of terror. At least 30 people killed and 230 more wounded in attacks on a subway and airport in Brussels, Belgium. Life hurts. People are violent. We are left choking on fear.
When the world gets drenched in pain I find it hard to hold my anger in check or to keep revenge restrained. I want to lash out. I want to enforce eye for an eye. When wrong is done, I want right to be imposed. Imposed at any cost.
Then I hear it. I hear the words from a blood drenched cross, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” What are we doing? Why do we keep hurting? Why do we keep stabbing friends in the back? Why do we continue to hate? We know. We know what we are doing. Father, forgive us.
Here we are between the Hosannas of Palm Sunday and the Hallelujahs of Easter confronted with an act of terror. The night before this night Jesus fed his disciples, washed their feet, and led them to a garden to pray. Tonight he hangs from a cross. “I am thirsty,” he says. And after a wine soaked sponge was held to his mouth, he says, “It is finished.”
There was no lethal injection in Jesus’ day. There was no attempt to make the killing less painful. The whole point was to make it hurt as much as possible. Jesus died with a crown of thorns on his head and a sign of mockery above. He probably died of suffocation, as his arms gave out and his lungs collapsed under the weight of his sinking body. Some say it was a broken body that killed him. I believe it to be a broken heart.
“No one has greater love than this,” he said on the last night of his life, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Having explained this to his friends, shown them in the washing of their feet, he leaves the room to go prove it. Less than twenty-four hours later, it was finished.
The cross of Calvary is the place where God, having become flesh in Jesus, took upon himself the brokenness of our fallen world. God did not create a fallen world. We made this mess. Instead of abandoning us to our own chaos, God chose to reach over an infinite chasm of justice and love and wrap us in mercy. The cross is God’s victory over darkness. From it, we see a love that can only come from God. On the cross we see dying love, and we recognize it as the undying love of God (NT Wright). Because He died.
God is not the kind of God that thinks you and me so awful and horrible that we should get what is coming to us, death and destruction. Instead, God thinks you and me are so beautiful, so precious that our redemption is worth dying for (Douglas John Hall). Seen from the light of Easter, the Crucifixion is the turning point in history. It is the moment when all the evil and pain of all the world is heaped into one place and there dealt with once and for all. “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son.” Because He died.
At the end his book, What Jesus Meant, Gary Wills comes to Good Friday. He writes, “Dark and mysterious as the whole matter of the Incarnation and the Passion, perhaps a single thing can help us think of them.” He then shares a personal account of a conversation that he had with his son. His young son woke up one night crying. He had a bad dream, a nightmare. When Wills asked what was troubling him, the little boy said that a nun in his Catholic school had told the children that they would end up in hell if they sinned. “Am I going to hell?” the little boy asked his father. Wills writes, “There is not an ounce of heroism in my nature, but I instantly announced what any father, any parent would: ‘All I can say is that if you’re going there, I’m going with you.”
On this Good Friday, Jesus says, “There is no place – no hell, no suffering, no threat, and not even death that if you are going, I am going with you.” Only God can love like that. What is good about tonight is not what happens to Jesus, but what happens to us. Because He Died.