Tonight is Good Friday. I asked to get off work early so I could go to church, where everyone wore black in anticipation of our mourning. Our service was somber, lights dimmed, people hushed. People read the story of Jesus’s arrest, trial, and murder, not as a skit, but as something more than a recitation. The story was interspersed with music, sometimes performed by a choir, by the congregation, by a soloist.
I’ve been learning about the value of walking through Holy Week one day at a time. Too often we jump to Easter, because it is easier to focus on good news and hope and life than to let ourselves sit with disappointment, rejection, fear, and death. But I think it is valuable to walk with Jesus and put ourselves in the shoes of those who knew him, listened to him, trusted in him, and watched him die.
I realized pretty quickly during our service that I didn’t like participating in the crowd dialogue. Increasingly loud cries of “Crucify him!” left me suddenly broken off, fighting back tears as the people around me shouted. I’m loyal. I don’t think I would have been fickle, exclaiming “Hosanna” one day and “Crucify him” a week later. No, I don’t betray the people I love so obviously. Instead, I am a coward. I get quiet. I watch the person I love be murdered, and I watch my dreams and hope die away without doing anything to stop the horror.
As the man reading Jesus’s part calmly answered his accusers, I felt my heart growing desperate, wondering why he wouldn’t just take control of the situation, stop this nonsense, and prove to everyone that he is God and not someone to be messed with. But he kept letting people bully him, let people attack him and hurl insults at him. He let people stand silently by and watch him die, despite knowing he did nothing wrong.
We sang, “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” and my heart grew even colder. What if I was there? What if we were all there, and we did nothing? We claim to love him. We listen to his instructions, half understanding this kingdom he speaks of where we love enemies and celebrate meekness. We claim to be his disciples, and we were there when they crucified him. Yet we did nothing. I did nothing.
The worst part of the night was when we, the congregation, the angry crowd, proclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar!” to Pilate’s question, “Shall I crucify your king?” My voice broke, but I kept speaking, because here was truth. I have no king but…comfort. I have no king but freedom. I have no king but self-interest. The man who wants me to take up a cross and follow him? Crucify him, and let me have my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Jesus died. The musicians turned off their lights and the choir quietly formed in the darkness. “God so loved the world,” they sang, without instruments. Their voices echoed in the stillness. “That he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth, believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
The choir hung their heads. A single sentence appeared on the screen overhead: “Please depart silently.” We stood in the dark, walked out the back of the sanctuary, held open doors for each other, and got in our cars. No one talked. We left the God we claimed to serve buried in a tomb and went back to our lives.
I don’t know what everyone else did, but I drove home and cried. Good Friday is not good. Good Friday is a day of disappointments. Jesus claimed to bring a kingdom, and just when it looked like Israel would be vindicated and restored to glory, he was murdered instead. I cried because Jesus thought it was better to die than to conquer, and so often I want him to just conquer–the immediacy of conquest is preferable to the slow process of renewal. I cried because his disciples left confused and in doubt, and I so often am filled with doubt–what if this Jesus is a fraud and I’ve built my life on a lie? I cried because Jesus died even though there were still blind people who needed sight, lame people who wanted to dance, and depressed people who had even less of a reason to live–and this is still the case as we wait for his slow return.
Good Friday is not good. I’m grateful to attend a church that brought me low and led me to the depths of despair and hopelessness. We do this in remembrance of him.