Why do we call it Good Friday? I know it is good news for us in retrospect, but it certainly was not a good day for Jesus. And how did the cross, Rome’s symbol of the most ignominious defeat, get turned into the symbol of a victorious Christendom that ruled the western world for two millenia? There seems to be some odd reversal going on here, a paradigm shift of stupendous proportions.
Paul said as much when he told us that Jesus cancelled the written code by nailing it to the cross, and he made a spectacle of powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:14,15). What looked to be happening was the polar opposite of what actually transpired.
However, it is precisely this radical reversal of the obvious that is one of the primary reasons for keeping the cross front and center in all Christian theology and practice. (Please understand I am here addressing the place of the cross in our thought, not the place of the cross (and all it represents) in itself. I hope to make clear that the significance of the cross as an expression of the God who relentlessly pursues his children exceeds our grasp.) It is the cross that proscribes our becoming complacent in our theology and practice. It is the profound depth of meaning in the cross that remains a constant challenge to thought and life.
When Mary and I were returning from the obligatory Good Friday morning service we were talking about Jesus’ statement on the cross “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” There has been extensive discussion about the precise meaning of this phrase, and I do not propose to answer the question here, I simply wish to attempt a response that takes note of some of the issues which must be considered in any proposed answer, if any such thing as an answer is even possible.
Interpreting this phrase to indicate that the Father turns his back on his Son, as is often done, is illegitimate on two counts. In the first place, the word Jesus uses means God, not Father. Secondly, Christian theology devoutly holds that Jesus was fully divine and fully human, and that he is so eternally from the Incarnation. Hence this heart-rending lament means neither that the Father turned his back on his Son, and it cannot mean that Jesus’ divinity was diminished in this experience.
I read this statement as an expression of the profound cataclysmic and catastrophic experience of the Author of Life tasting death; of the Holy One becoming sin; and –thanks be to God– of final defeat becoming an eternal victory. We can grasp neither the holiness of God, nor the onerous repugnance of sin, how can we hope understand their intersection? We know not the meaning of life and cannot understand the significance of death, how can we hope to make sense of the earth-shattering magnitude of the clash that transpires when Life meets death face to face?
I cannot hope to adequately understand the significance of the cross for my thought and life, but I am beginning to understand the exigence of keeping the cross front and center in all my reflections about life and relationships. The cross reminds me of who I am, and it reminds me that I need a God who loves me immeasurably more than my paltry awareness of my need for love. The cross reminds me that the way to life is through death, and that things are seldom as they appear. The cross reminds me that I and every one of my fellow human beings stands radically equal before God, and that failure to extend prodigal grace to others is the greatest obstacle to my own experience of the grace I so desperately need for my own salvation. The cross tells me that even as I do not begin to understand the enormity of my sin and the terrifying specter of death as separation from God, so I catch but the faintest glimmerings of the promise contained in the hope of salvation and life with God here and now, as well as forever, because of the cross.
Thanks be to God!!