We gather on this Good Friday as followers of Jesus Christ to stand, as it were, at the foot of his cross, remembering how he suffered agony and humiliation so that all might be forgiven and reconciled to God by his sacrificial death. As Christians, we are called to embrace the story of the cross–to enter it, feel it, endure it, and to be transformed within it.
Growing up, I was drawn to Good Friday and looked forward to the 3-hour preaching on the 7 last words of Christ from 12 to 3 in the afternoon—each word embedded in preaching, prayer and minor chord hymnody. One of my favorite hymns of that service was Beneath the Cross of Jesus (Hymn 498), for the second verse seemed to capture all that was going on emotionally in each of us:
Upon the cross of Jesus mine eyes at times can see
the very dying form of one who suffered there for me;
and from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess:
the wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.
The Good Friday service was part of our Holy Week family ritual, but more importantly, it was the gathering of the family of God; all of us beneath the cross of Jesus. I made this pilgrimage with my parents year by year. Admittedly, the service was always followed by a stop past the neighborhood bakery for fresh hot cross buns and I will make that familiar stop again this year. As an adult I appreciate the fact that my parents took me along not just to hear the story, but to be a part of it and to experience the events of the day.
The question in the Negro spiritual asks: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? The answer is yes—we were, and now are. For the cross is exactly what we’re being asked to stay with, gaze upon and yes, even touch. Beneath the cross of Jesus we find our identity, our unity, our relationship with each other and with God. Nothing about Good Friday will allow us to deny the reality of death, but we know that today is not the end of the story. And so we hang in this moment of suspended time; waiting for the explosive moment in the Easter Vigil tomorrow, when God will say, “Let there be light,” and the Church and our world will once again be ablaze. But for now we wait. We grieve. We mourn. We hope—all beneath the cross of Jesus.
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