Good Friday – John 18:1-19:42
What about your death gives meaning to your life today? In what ways is death inviting you to live more fully, to connect more deeply with others, to love more freely and completely?
My stomach is churning even as I ask you those questions. I don’t want to face my death any more than you want to face yours. And yet today sets death before us. Good Friday always does. Today death takes center stage.
Good Friday is always a difficult day. But this year it feels even more difficult, more close, more real. “Death is the ultimate pandemic.”* No one escapes it, not even Jesus.
But it’s on this day that Emmanuel, God with us, takes on it’s deepest meaning and significance. Jesus is never more real, more human, more embodied, more identified with us, than he is on the cross. Jesus is never more present to us and our suffering and our deaths than he is on Good Friday. It’s not at his birth, or in his teaching and preaching, or the miracles he performs, or even at his resurrection. It’s on the cross. It’s in his suffering and dying that Jesus is most like us.
Even so, deep within I hear myself saying, “Are you not the messiah?” “Save yourself, and come down from the cross.” “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
But he doesn’t. He can’t. He can no more save himself from death than can we save ourselves. He is as powerless to avoid death as are we.
I have no answers or explanations for this day. And I won’t try to give you any. If I did that I would be denying you something valuable – your life. Besides, I think all our theologies about the crucifixion, our attempts to make sense of it, our desire to wrap it up in a neat and acceptable package are, at some level, about our fear of death and our attempt to avoid it. But we can’t, and none of us will.
Today holds that truth before us. On Good Friday we face our lack of control and our powerlessness over death. And COVID-19 intensifies and makes that more real for all of us. It is the cross standing before every one of us today.
Let’s not run away from this day. Let’s not turn away from the cross. And let’s not ignore the truth before us today. Death is real and death is unavoidable. That’s how it was for Jesus. Why would it be any different for us?
Do not, however, let the truth of this day, this Good Friday, lead you to despair and hopelessness. Do not let it cause you to give up. Do not let the finality of death nullify your life today.
The reality of death does not diminish or negate our lives, it intensifies them. Mortality is what gives life its vitality. (Caputo, 175)
Death is the frame around the picture of our life. It holds before us what is. It focuses our attention. It intensifies and prioritizes what really matters. That this life does not last forever does not diminish its value, it gives life ultimate value. (Caputo 158, 174) The temporality of our life means that this one moment, this now, is priceless.
I think that’s what Jesus knew and why he lived as he did. He took no person, no thing, and no day for granted. His life was intense. His love was passionate. His presence was palpable. There was deep meaning and significance to who he was and everything he did. He lived as he did, not in spite of his coming death, but rather, because he knew his death was coming.
And so is ours. We live in the shadow of the cross. I wonder what that means for you today. I wonder what it might mean for your relationships; your priorities; the values you hold or claim to hold; the ways you love, forgive, and show up for others; the places where you invest your time, money, and effort. Is your life taking the shape and direction you want it to? Is there meaning and significance in your life and what you are doing? Is there a feeling of beauty and presence? Do you live with awe and wonder? Are you filled with gratitude and appreciation?
Are you living today as if it is the only and most important day of your life? Good Friday says it is. This is that day. Every day is.
+ * From a friend.
+ John Caputo, Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim