A surprising celebration
Good Friday is both a demonstration of, and the only answer to, what has gone wrong with the world
Good Friday is, to say the least, a surprising thing to commemorate. A violent torture and execution is hardly good starting material for a weekend celebration or a heart-warming family festival. The motivation to replace the whips, thorns and nails of Good Friday with fluffy bunnies and chocolate eggs is perfectly understandable. So too is the assumption by many that Jesus’ death is like that of many good men who died as tragic heroes – a sad and perhaps noble end to a good life. But the actual text of the Biblical accounts of Easter — if you’ve never read them, I suggest starting with Mark chapter 14 — resists any such docile interpretation. Good Friday, as Christians have understood and proclaimed it, has a good claim to be the most subversive single event the world has ever known.
For Good Friday is nothing less than, first, a demonstration of the root cause of all the evils of the world; and second, the dramatic God-given solution to them.
First, the demonstration. A fascinating and often-missed detail of the gospel stories is that Jesus was not brought down by false evidence, though that was attempted. What condemned him was his own words about himself. ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed’ (i.e. God), Jesus was asked; ‘I am’, he replied, ‘and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’. In other words, Jesus was identifying himself as the Messiah: God’s own Son come to earth to rule over it as God’s appointed King. And for those words he had to die, for they were blasphemy to the Jews and treason to the Romans.
It points to the futility of seeking solutions to social and political problems which bypass the question of our relationship with our creator
Put bluntly, the God who made us came to meet us; and we killed him. And that fact sums up in one all that has been wrong in human society from its beginning until now. We do not — I will determine my own rules for living, even my own identity, and how dare anyone, God most of all, try to tell me otherwise – is merely a modern expression of the same basic instinct. The one thing we will not tolerate is someone telling us what to do or even who we are. Even if — especially if — that someone is the one who made us in the first place.
And so Good Friday stands as a diagnosis of the human condition. Every leaf and twig of the painful and perplexing chaos of human existence can be traced back to this root. Every broken home, every dashed hope, every weeping victim, every heartless tyrant, every agonising illness and every tragic accident, every seething enmity and every distressing misunderstanding, every untimely death and every timely one too: all find their origin and their ultimate cause in this. The Good Friday spirit is the subtext and background of all human dysfunctions. God made us for himself, and we in response have hated him. So much so that when he came to us himself, we crucified him.
So Good Friday is a diagnosis. But it is also a cure. For the other startling feature of the gospel accounts is that Jesus was no helpless victim. He had plenty of opportunity to avoid capture, and once captured, to avoid execution, but he did not. Indeed it is impossible to escape the impression that he was more in control of the whole situation than any of his aggressors. He accepted and endured the murderous rejection of the world deliberately and willingly. Because by doing so, he would undo it.
The other startling feature of the gospel accounts is that Jesus was no helpless victim
How this is so is a mystery which Christians have tried to plumb for two thousand years, and will stand in awe of for uncounted ages more; we will not fathom it here. But in its essence, it is something like this. In enduring the worst that an evil world could do to him, Jesus was somehow lifting what an evil world deserved onto his own shoulders; in offering himself as a sacrifice to his Father, he was satisfying the divine justice which a Holy God must show towards evil; and so in him, God’s Son, being treated as our enemy, he was opening a way for those who had been God’s enemies to become instead his children. Once God had raised Jesus from the dead, it opened up the possibility of a whole new way of being human; one in which knowing our creator comes first, front and centre in all of life, and from that starting point all the rest of life can be rebuilt.
So Good Friday demonstrated the nature and scale of human wickedness, and drew its sting, in one and the same event. Which means that Good Friday is as hugely significant now as it has always been. It points to the futility of seeking solutions to social and political problems which bypass the question of our relationship with our creator. It points to the centrality of the question of who, or what, we worship, as the thing that underlies all else that goes on in our lives and in our society. And most of all it brings us face to face with the immeasurable mercy of God, who sent his Son to suffer at our hands, so that we who did such things to him could find in him — now risen from the dead and reigning from heaven — a love, and a life, that we could otherwise never have known.
That is what Christians celebrate on Good Friday. We’ll take that over bunnies and eggs every time.
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