“In his dying, he destroyed death; in his rising, he restored life.”
Last October, my siblings and I watched for three weeks as my dad was dying. He’d had covid in March from which he never fully recovered. Following a hip-shattering fall, the nursing home only allowed us to see him when he became unresponsive. We wanted to hug him, hold him, talk with him and reassure him of our love. With all the PPE and restrictions, we could not do any of these things. We hoped against hope that he would recover since he had come through so many other things…but he did not. At the moment he passed away, he was alone, no family with him, no one to hold his hand or give him a final kiss. My heart breaks whenever I think about it.
When I read about Jesus’ death in John’s Gospel, the feelings and frustrations I had watching my dad came back to me. Usually when I come to the Passion in the Gospels, I read through it, feel upset but move quickly to the Resurrection. I want to get to Easter and the “good” part of Good Friday. This year, I paused and reflected on the Crucifixion and those closest to Jesus. I wanted to be present at that moment. I put myself in their sandals to understand what their thoughts and feelings might be. Unlike us, they did not know the glorious outcome of this tragic event. All they could deal with was what was in front of them.
Jesus had spoken to his disciples about his death and his Father’s kingdom but these thoughts were so far out of their realm of experience that they could not understand them. They were looking for a Messiah to free them from Roman rule. They had given up their livelihood and their families to follow Jesus. They were excited about his work on earth and could not conceive of carrying on without him. They had not been able to watch with Jesus in the Garden before he was taken to trial. Peter had vowed to follow Jesus that night even to death but he ended up denying he even knew him…three times. Other than John, they were not at the Cross. They were frightened that their lives might be taken next. They wanted to follow Jesus but their human hearts failed them at the thought of suffering and death. These feelings of despair, grief, guilt, loss and darkness must have overwhelmed them.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was at the foot of the cross. She had raised her son and watched as he preached and taught. She had watched her child grow into a man who was determined to “be about his father’s business.” She saw him oppose the authorities and talk about his kingdom that was not of this world. She knew that there were those who wanted him out of the way. Now as she saw him beaten, humiliated and tortured, she suffered with him. As his mother, she wanted to hold him, ease his pain. In his powerful Pieta, Michaelangelo envisions her getting to finally hold her son but only after he has endured great suffering, been crucified and died. Her love combined with the anguish of losing him shows in her face. She likely recalls the words Simeon said when she presented Jesus at the Temple: “You see this child; he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too…” (Luke 2:35)
Jesus was tortured, humiliated, crucified and died. For Jesus, the torment of this day began early in his ministry on earth. As he studied the Scriptures, his mission on earth became clear and he knew what his life would be. He was very aware of how little time he had, how much he had to do and the sacrifice he would have to make. Our reading from Isaiah, written long before Jesus was born, tells us he would be “despised and rejected by others”, “oppressed and…afflicted”, and “Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth, Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain”. Jesus was fully human and fully felt the fear, anxiety and dread of the coming events. Jesus knows how this story will end. He knows it will be painful. But Jesus still shows up. The Gospels tell us that in the Garden, Jesus “threw himself face downward on the ground”, he sweat blood and he cried out three times “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). Jesus did not follow his Father’s will serenely but passionately sought another way. Ultimately, he chose to obey his Father and suffer for us. His obedience lead him to a role no one else could fill.
He had tried to get his disciples to understand about his Father’s kingdom, about how to treat other people, how to pray and how to be in relationship with God. With his hands, he healed people, eased their suffering, affirmed their faith and even restored life. Now those hands were nailed to the cross and he was unable to reach or touch anyone. He was alone, abandoned by most of those closest to him. He even felt separated from his Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His life on earth had been spent teaching and healing others but at the time of his death, he was touched only by those who would mock, hurt, scorn and kill him.
When my dad died, we were heartbroken and sorrowful that we would not see or talk to him again. We knew he had lived a good and long life and is now in God’s presence. But his death did not accomplish anything for those of us left behind. When Jesus died, Mary, his disciples and his followers were frightened and grieved greatly over losing him. BUT, unlike any other death, Jesus’ dying accomplished so much. He opened heaven for us, conquered sin and death once for all and became “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9) His death accomplished what no other death can. “In his dying, he destroyed death; in his rising, he restored life.”
I invite you to spend time today standing at the foot of the cross, feeling the loss of Jesus that Mary and his disciples did – the confusion, the pain and the fears. Forget that you know how this story ends. See your world through the disciples’ eyes. Not knowing what would happen to you. Confused by the things he had said that you did not understand. Feeling hopeless about the rescue from the Romans that you had hoped for. Asking why God would let him die. Wondering what you will do now without him. Reflect on these feelings and perhaps write about them.
Then imagine your life without Jesus. What would guide your life? Where would your hope be? What would you look forward to in this life? What are your feelings about your life without Jesus? Reflect on and write about these things too.
Finally, think about where Jesus is in your everyday life, what the good part of Good Friday is. That Jesus died and rose again for us, for our eternal salvation. For the example of a life passionately lived and dedicated to his Father’s will. For your invitation to speak to Jesus about anything whenever you choose to, knowing he has lived this life too. After your reflection, speak or write to Jesus, telling him your feelings and concerns. Thank him for his death that led to his glory and our salvation. Thank him for being a part of our lives every day.
Then maybe we can find hope for justice and healing in the midst of the chaos and pain in our world. Because the disciples, in their world, also knew chaos and pain and fear and death. And even death is not greater than God nor greater than His love.
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12