Holy Week: Good Friday Meditation – Brad Jersak

  • God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead–whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. Acts 5:30
  • You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. Acts 3:15

On this Good Friday of our first (and hopefully last) COVID-19 Holy Week, I awoke to these profound words, cited by my friend Kenneth Tanner on his Instagram feed:

  • “How would you ever nail God to a Cross–unless he wanted to be there?” –Father John Ricardo

This is the crux, the paradox and the intersection of the great mystery of divine sovereignty (which is to say love) and human freedom (which is to say rebellion). That men with real agency conspired in a truly wicked murder, which God, the omnipotent tactician of infinite love, nevertheless weaves into the supreme victory for our salvation.

The Crucifixion versus the Cross

Said another way, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was, at once, the collusion of religion and state in the lynching of an innocent man AND “the Cross” was Christ’s completely voluntary sacrifice of love for the salvation of all.

Notice how I’ve just distinguished “crucifixion” and “Cross.” The New Testament doesn’t always delineate those words as I have, but the idea is absolutely there. The crucifixion, on one hand, is seen as a crime, an act of human wickedness, inexcusable but not unforgivable. It’s truly a murder.

The “Cross,” by contrast, represents the kindness and victory of God running through the tragedy of that murder. God-in-Christ demonstrates his kindness through self-giving love and radical forgiveness, and reveals his victory in the resurrection of Jesus as hope for all.

I’ve made this point many times but it always bears repeating: the Synoptic Gospels emphasize the crucifixion (the criminal humiliation of Christ) on Good Friday and his vindication and glorification on Easter Sunday. “He is led like a sheep to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).

But for John a generation later, Friday is GOOD because, the Cross is already Christ’s ascent, his enthronement, his glorification and life-giving victory. Jesus says, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:18).

A COVID-19 Analogy

Why such a command from Abba? Is there some need in the infinitely offended God for divine appeasement that requires demonically-driven, murderous conspirators to satisfy God’s wrath? No! Of course not! Or is Christ compelled by bravado to march toward a self-righteous suicide? No! Not at all! Here is Gregory of Nazianzus:

  • Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or had any need for it but by His dispensation? It was necessary that man should be sanctified by the humanity of God; it was necessary that He Himself should free us, triumphing over the tyrant by His own strength, and that He should recall us to Himself by His Son who is the Mediator, who does all for the honor of the Father, to whom he is obedient in all things …. Let the rest of the mystery be venerated silently (Oration 45.22).

Thus, we see the Father and Son conspire together in love with the Spirit to embark on a life-giving, life-saving mission to save humanity from death and death-dealing.

To use COVID-19 as an easy analogy, the virus itself is deadly and so are those who carry it, some in honest ignorance, some through reckless stupidity and some through willful defiance of common sense.

Now consider those medical caregivers who conspire to oppose the virus and save us from it. Just when everyone else is told to stay at home, they march right into the hospital ICU wards where they are most likely to contract the coronavirus. In the cause of saving the lives of those infected, they risk death themselves … and some have even given their lives for the cause.

Would we imagine that the hospital supervisors who schedule those doctors and nurses for shifts in ICU were doing so because they were so annoyed with the infected patients that they needed their medical staff to die to assuage the anger? Of course not. That’s a silly fiction, isn’t it?!

And do we think the doctors and nurses signed up for the shifts in ICU because they so despaired of life that they deliberately infect themselves as a tricky way to take their own lives? I would hope not!

Nevertheless, the hospital administration, the doctors and the nurses agree to enter the fray, even knowing that death may be inevitable for some of them, because the situation requires it. To overcome the coronavirus, sacrificial love compels them forward. Some will rightly say, “COVID-19 did not take my life. The infected patients did not take my life. I had the authority to lay it down. Voluntarily.”

And so Christ did. That’s what makes this Friday “good” and that’s how Good Friday is “for us.”

Today, Christ doesn’t need our pity for what he suffered. But some serious gratitude is certainly in order.

And perhaps you’re also due for an appointment with the Great Physician. I suggest booking in with him and asking, “Great Physician, what needs treating in me today? I’m open to your examination, your diagnosis and your all-merciful treatment.”

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