One question I get asked more often than any other question as a Christian is this: Why is it called ‘Good’ Friday? What’s so good about Jesus dying? Anyone else get asked that a lot?!
It’s hard to understand, I suppose, why anyone would call a death – and especially a death as horrific and painful as a crucifixion – a good thing. And if all you see when you look at the cross is a picture of pain, then it stands to reason that it isn’t good.
But what if you see the cross as a picture of love?
Good Friday church services tend to be solemn, quiet, contemplative affairs. Acoustic, prayer-focused, they give us time to think on that picture of a cross on a hill and of the man on that cross. Often, people are brought to tears by their thoughts.
Sometimes, there are no words when we think on the cross. No words that seem adequate, anyway. When I think and pray on the cross, I don’t think and pray with words; often, I think and pray with pictures.
I imagine how Jesus felt. The pain in his hands, in his back, in his legs, in his chest as he tried in vain to stay alive through it, to keep himself upright. As he strained against the weight of his body on a cross, the nails the only thing keeping him there. I can only imagine that pain because I cannot feel it – I have never known pain like that.
I imagine Jesus’ loneliness. I hear him cry out in a hoarse, raw voice to his Father. I imagine the cold, dark, heavy loneliness of being separated from a father who had always been there by his side. I can only imagine that loneliness because I cannot feel it – however lonely I have been, I have always been just a phonecall away from someone I love.
I imagine what Jesus saw. Darkness, blood, mocking eyes, tears of his loved ones. I imagine what Jesus heard. His blood pumping through his broken body, strangers calling him names, people who loved him crying for him. I imagine how time felt for him: too slow. When will it end?
But that pain is not all there is.
You see, on the cross there is love. Love so overwhelming, so true, so sincere and real and powerful that it changed the world. That it changes the world. Why did Jesus die on the cross? Love, that’s why.
I often joke with some of my friends, You only love me for my baking skills. One of our previous vicars always told the same sermon at weddings, and he talked about ‘because love’: I love you because you’re handsome, I love you because you’re a good cook, I love you because you know how to load the dishwasher properly, etc etc. If we ask Jesus the ‘why’ of the cross, this is his reply…
Because I love you.
Because you are mine.
Because I want to give you everything.
Because I don’t want you to hurt like this.
Because I want you to be with me and I want to be with you.
Jesus does not want heaven without us. He bears the pain because he cannot bear for us to have to bear it. The cross is about the pain he felt, and it’s about the pain we don’t have to feel because of it. The cross is about death, and it’s about life.
The cross is about a man who loved so fiercely that he stretched out his arms and said, ‘Look, this is how much I love you. This is because to me, you are worth it all.’
It is not a pretty picture, but how good for us that it was painted.