I am posting this reflection now so there will be plenty of time for folks to read it before the end of Good Friday, the 10th of April. Let me make the usual disclaimer that this Reflection is written by a Christian for Christians, for those who are on a spiritual quest and are inquiring about the tenets of Christianity, and for all others who may find value in it if it helps them understand Christian belief a bit better.
Faith is a given in this Reflection. Therefore, there is no intention here to carry on dialogues about the validity of faith, the reality of events, or a general discussion of the merits of faith, or the lack thereof. Such discussions can be originated on other blogs.
It is my belief that Christians belong at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. But it isn't the place where most people want to spend much time, and so Good Friday is also a time when many modern Protestant Churches do not even have services.
This phenomena of mass avoidance of Good Friday and spending time at the Cross is not all that new. In fact, the Bible tells us that most of the disciples were nowhere near the Cross when Jesus died.
Only His mother and the beloved disciple appear to have been close enough to actually hear him from the Cross, and that is told to us in only one of the four Gospels. There were some women who were his followers watching from a distance.
As for the inner core of believers, the ones who would become known as the apostles, most had gone into hiding, fearing that they would be subject to the same fate if they ventured out.
Peter had already denied three times that he even knew Jesus, let alone that he was Jesus' disciple. Peter did that even before he knew that Jesus would be sentenced to death.
The foot of the Cross may not be a comfortable place for a believer. But a believer should be there, comfortable or not. And that is the rub. We do not much like discomfort.
But, if we view it, as too many Christians today do, as simply as history, something that happened long ago, an evil deed perpetrated by others, then while we would not want to waste our time at the Cross, it would not bother us much if we did.
Most Christians are not so callous, and believe that this was a legal murder, this crucifixion, an evil deed perpetrated long, long ago by others. But along with that belief is the unstated idea the his crucifixion has nothing to do with us who were born 2000 years later.
They see us as benefiting from his sacrifice on the Cross. They do not see us as having any role in his death.
After all, didn't Jesus say, quite clearly, from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Yes, he did. Even the most Biblically illiterate Christian knows that much. "Father, forgive them" is exactly what he said.
Hearing that, what should we think? Well, one of the things many Christians have been thinking about for 2000 years is trying to identify just who "them" is. The irony in that, of course, is that Christianity has spent 2000 years concentrating so hard on trying to decide who "them" is, that the true point of his forgiveness is lost on us.
Many of us cannot understand implications of the prayer of forgiveness made by Jesus from the Cross because it never occurs to us that it might be directed at us. After all, Jesus says it is directed at "them," the ones who were killing Him. And that was 2000 years ago!
In our subconscious obsession with distancing ourselves from the Cross even faithful Christians have sought to define "them" as almost anyone other than "us." It takes a courageous Christian to hold a mirror to his face and admit, "them is me!"
Through the centuries many Christians have never actually come to grips with the truth that it is our sin for which he died. Not just for the sin of those who lived back then, but for the sins of the entire world, past, present and future.
The Bible is crystal clear that Jesus came to save not just some people at some particular time and place but to save all people at all times and in all places. And Jesus' prayer from the Cross is proof of that when we understand that we are included in those for whom Jesus asked forgiveness.
But, as a result of our failure to see our own sin, we have, over the centuries, looked for and found scapegoats: , the Romans, Pilate, the Sanhedrein, the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Chief Priests. But, mostly, Christianity has thrown a blanket indictment over one people, "THE JEWS!"
This tragic failure at introspection lead, in the middle of the last century, to the greatest holocaust that the world has ever known. And even today it leads to ungodly prejudice and anti-semitism, spewing bile-filled hatred at the people God called his "chosen."
The Jews were chosen not for themselves alone, but because they believed in the one God who blessed them so that they could be a blessing to all people. Most antisemites conveniently overlook that fact.
Our Jewish Messiah, the one we call the Christ, this Jesus of Nazareth, a simple Jewish rabbi, this Savior we worship and adore, did not blame the Jews. Nor did he condemn Pilate, or the Romans, or the Chief Priests, or any single individual or group.
He could have condemned them. In his place I imagine that we would condemn lots of people. But he said, plainly and clearly, "Father, forgive them."
Yet, to the shame of the Church, we have too often indulged ourselves in our fear of facing the Cross. We have feared looking into the mirror and having to say, "Oh My Lord Jesus, I crucified you!"
Thankfully, a few Christians have thought it through, have figured out that Jesus died for the sins of all of us, have understood that we, in every generation, crucify Jesus by our sin.
Listen to the words of the great 17th century hymnist, Johann Heermann, in his anthem of confession, "Ah, Holy Jesus" written at a time of great tribulation, during the Thirty Years War.
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.
Who was the guilty- Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
'Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.
For me, kind Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life's oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.
Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For our atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
But, unless we Christians can gather at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, and say with the hymnist, "I Crucified You," then we will never be able to feel the guilt that we need to confess. Neither will we be able to feel the pain Jesus felt on that cross, nor the love he offered to us.
Guilt is not something modern folk like to talk about. Nor is pain. Nor is forgiveness that comes to us through pain. And so, increasingly, much of the Protestant Church today flies through Palm Sunday and skips to Easter Sunday with only a small bow in the direction of the Cross.
One thing I am very pleased with in the Moravian Church that I served for the last five years of my ministry in is the Moravians still hold with the old idea that Holy Week means something.
And so Holy Week Readings are held each evening, up to and including Good Friday, consisting of readings from the Gospels and singing hymns that pull us into an understanding of our participation in the events leading to and ending in the crucifixion.
On that Cross of pain, Jesus, the one we call the Christ, the Messiah, offered us forgiveness of our sin, our personal sin. If we can begin, this Good Friday, to feel the guilt, to comprehend the pain, to sense the love of Christ for us, then we may be privileged to understand the real meaning of his offer of grace.
"Father, forgive them" is a singular act of grace bought for us, once, for all, by one who hung on a Cross and loved us enough to forgive us.
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" is also a prayer. Never forget that. It was Jesus' prayer to the One who could grant forgiveness for the sake of His Son. And God heard Jesus' prayer.
By the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the one who loves us enough to forgive us, God, in fact, did forgive us. By raising Jesus, God did reconcile us to Himself through the shed blood of his Son.
I have always thought the the name Good Friday is such an bittersweet name to attach to the day of crucifixion. Bitter in the pain and ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God. But sweet in the fruit of that sacrifice, which is the promise of salvation to those who believe on him.
Through his sacrafice on the Cross, Jesus offers a special grace to those who believe in him. That grace is that they shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.
My Good Friday prayer for myself and for all who call themselves Christians is "Father, forgive us, for we know now what we did."
May all of you, my dear friends on OS, find peace and love, hope and joy, whatever your belief may be.