The scandal and offense of Jesus’ crucifixion lies mostly buried under 2000 years of familiarity. Isaiah writes of the shock that the nations experience when Israel, that no-account postage stamp of land they were used to running over en route to fighting more important peoples, turns out not only to be exalted and lifted up on high, but also the means of their salvation, in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant. Similarly, that a minor Jewish political threat hanging like a ragged corpse on a cross outside Jerusalem—just like so many others, before and especially after—should turn out to be the Savior of the World ought to surprise us, or at least inspire a little incredulity. We often say that the Jews were expecting the wrong kind of messiah, but really, who can blame them? According to the Gospel accounts, even Jesus’ closest associates did not expect him to die, and certainly not like this. Their shock still resonates through the stories recorded many decades later.
And so it is that on this day we come to face the scandal again, to look up at a dying man, abandoned by God and all poured out like wax, and to hope that the Spirit might pierce through this appalling scene and speak to our hearts: “This is the Christ. This is your Advocate with the Father, he who did no sin and yet gave himself so that you might be glorified. This is he who took upon him not only your sins, but also your pains and sicknesses and sufferings. This is the great High Priest, tested in every way you might have experienced, so that he might be the source of eternal salvation for all.” Who could believe such things without a God intervening somehow?
The incredulity this scene ought to inspire is why we must return to it each year (and each Sunday as we take the sacrament). Can we really find God amidst such pathos and weakness? Yes! For what other God could meet us in our own weakness and darkness, offering not only the empathy of one who has also experienced it, but also offering hope. The powers of the world—all the pomp and glory that follow money and power—cannot save us from the quiet desperation of our lives, but this man can. This man did. This man will.
Let us therefore kneel in silence before the cross, searching our souls, reaching for Jesus, and waiting for Easter to come.
A Penitential Prayer for Good Friday
O Jesus, I meet you at the foot of the cross, broken by my sins as you were broken for them. I cannot bear to look up, but I pray that you will look down on me in mercy, just as you looked on the thief at your side. As you are lifted up in shame, lift me up in glory; as you have poured out your life, fill me with your Spirit; as you have descended to hell, raise me to heaven. As I bury you again today, let me also bury my sins; and as I wait now with you in the silence of the grave, let me also rise with you a new creature, my feet now firm in the path of your love. Amen.
—Mormon Lectionary Project
The Collect: O God, Almighty Father of Heaven and Earth, who on this day left your Son to become fully human, that the face of God might be revealed in weakness: visit us with your Spirit while we sit in darkness and silence, that in our silence we might hear and in our darkness we might see; and, just as Jesus’ body was broken this day, let us see in our own brokenness our hope of becoming, with him on Easter morning, raised and reunited as one people, even as you are one God. Amen.
For the music, here is Antonio Lotti’s “Crucifixus a 8,” drawn from his longer “Credo.”
And, because Good Friday would not be complete without Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater,” here is a stunning performance by Voices of Music: