For our Good Friday service a number of years ago, a professional actress in my congregation portrayed Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she stood at the base of the cross. Those of us who risked coming to worship that morning experienced some of the pain, horror, helplessness of the crucifixion of Jesus. After the service, many who were present said, “Please don’t make the Good Friday service so graphic. I don’t ever want to experience that again…”
Our inhumanity to our fellow human beings didn’t begin or end with Jesus. Every day we hear and see pictures of soldiers dying in wars around the world. Film clips and books written about life in refugee camps, the direct result of war, touch our hearts. Like the story of the crucifixion, we don’t want the pain of these experiences to penetrate our hearts.
In Jesus’ time, torture and death by crucifixion was the absolute worst punishment. Yet even in the midst of his pain, his disappointment with us, the story tells us that God spoke words of love through Jesus – “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) God’s loving mercy poured forth from the cross.
Holy Friday is a story about God showing us unconditional love. God became flesh and walked among us as Jesus. His stories called us to love our neighbours and our enemies. His teaching called us to let go of tradition that was imprisoning us. He accepted us all, Jew and Gentile, as God’s beloved children. Jesus’ last act of love was his excruciating death on the cross. Jesus lived God loving us at our worst, just as we are.
We tell this story because we need to see our role in the horror of today’s chaos. We need to feel Mary’s all-consuming grief at the base of the cross. Only through experiencing some of the pain and horror, can we begin to understand the depth of God’s forgiveness. Good Friday becomes Holy when we allow our hearts to open even a tiny crack and feel the desolation of the crucifixion. Through that crack, God slips in with a love so strong and deep that it brings new life.