The four gospel writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not agree on the specifics of what happened to Jesus on Good Friday. All agree there was a last gathering of friends when still, everything seemed possible. Suddenly, the future skews terribly off course. Hosanna’s of Sunday are distant memories in the reality of Jesus’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane
By Friday a mob forms, egged on by religious elites, where people no longer think or reason for themselves. Events quickly escalate from the trauma of Jesus’ arrest, through shouts of, “Crucify him,” to a sentence of death by crucifixion. To their horror, friends watch the hands and feet of their beloved Jesus, nailed to a cross and a crown of mocking thorns placed on his head. Every hope and promise crushed by what they see.
For the rest of their lives, in the telling and remembering, these friends of Jesus would try to make sense of the day. Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus felt abandoned, crying out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34) Words that must have pierced the heart of God, in the same way they pierced hearts of those who loved him . . . words as much a prayer as a cry of abandonment.
The cross does not define Jesus nor does it change who Jesus is. Only Luke tells us how one of the two thieves he is crucified between, chastises the other thief and pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42 Even in his own distress, Jesus reaches out in love to give encouragement and comfort. He releases this man from chains which bound him through all the years of mistakes, bad decisions and wrong choices. Jesus blesses him with the gift of peace and healing of a broken spirit. He promises, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) He blesses this broken man with a love that frees him from his past and releases him to paradise. It is the intersection of blessing and grace.
Jesus takes in each person who walks by, those gathered at the cross and others who watch from a distance. He sees soldiers tasked with carrying out crucifixions. In the surrounding crowd are those who have allowed old grievances at the upstart Galilean to fill them with hate and vengeance. Some who stand there, simply enjoy watching another’s pain. Women who followed him stand weeping by his feet.
Out of his great love, he blesses each person with forgiveness. He blesses every person who had allowed hate, prejudice, spitefulness, indifference or callousness to live in their hearts. He prayed the words which have echoed through the centuries, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) In that answered prayer, he freed us for all time from the bondage of our sins, offering each of us the gift of God’s forgiving love.
At the end, Jesus gives his life back to God, saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Jesus shows us the way of surviving darkness . . . a way of living that trusts God to lead us through all of our Good Friday’s pain. When the answer to “Why?” is not easily answered, and the aches in our hearts cry out . . . Jesus is here to journey with us through the pain. He offers us a blessing along the way of his presence. In his life death and resurrection he reminds us that Good Friday’s heartache is never the final word.