I grew up in the church, and part of growing up in the church is hearing the same stories over and over. Each year around Easter we’d talk about Jesus’ crucifixion—a dark and brutal story by any standard. But strangely, the crucifixion account never had much punch for me.
After all, we typically read it knowing that with “Friday” comes “Sunday”—that as grim as things seem on Good Friday, the joy of Jesus’ resurrection is just a few days away. It never occurred to me to consider Good Friday as anything but a slight obstacle along the way to the resurrection.
Not long ago, I reread the Gospels with an eye towards putting myself in the place of Jesus’ confused and terrified disciples. At each point in the story, I tried to forget what was going to happen next, instead focusing on what the disciples would have felt, heard, and seen as events unfolded around them. And as I did so, the terrible power of the crucifixion hit me. I found myself with tears in my eyes, reading about Jesus’ death in a way that hadn’t made sense before.
Passion Week begins triumphantly. Jesus rides into the city, everyone pinning their hopes and dreams on him. Steadily the crowds expand and it seems as if Jesus might avoid the terrible events he had hinted at. And then, at the height of it all, Jesus is sold out by Judas and taken away to be falsely accused, cruelly beaten, mocked, and nailed to a cross to die.
It’s not a pleasant image.
But it is the image we are given on Good Friday. It’s demoralizing, distasteful. A mother’s worst nightmare, to see her son falsely accused and punished in the worst way for it.
Today, on Good Friday, take a moment to put yourself in the place of the disciples. Try to imagine the pain of not knowing the end of the story. How does doing so change your perspective on the Easter story as a whole?
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.