Good Friday

    All this he did for you.

    In a cold, dark, room somewhere abroad a small group of naked, tired, hungry, and defeated captives are huddled in the corner.

    They’ve lost count of the hours, days, weeks, and years since they've experienced anything close to a normal life.

    One night, in the middle of a monsoon, an explosion sends a wooden door, now shattered to pieces, across the room. Light floods the room in the form of half a dozen headlamps. Over the ringing of damaged eardrums, the captives hear shouted commands and see choreographed responses. In the blink of an eye, a row of uniformed men approach the huddled captives, shouting something familiar, but forgotten.

    The soldiers are shouting, but the captives don’t budge.

    “We’re here to save you,” the soldiers scream in as many languages as they can muster.

    Still no response.

    Maybe it was the shell-shock. Maybe it was miscommunication.

    Or maybe, as another prisoner of war once recounted, these captives have been tricked before. Others have come, claiming to rescue them. Most of them have been defeated. Some of them were nefarious; disguising themselves as Navy Seals before beating their captives senseless for attempting to leave with the enemy.

    Time is running out, but the captives have been down this road before, fooled by a would-be savior, and this time, they don't budge.

    It may surprise you to hear this, but Jesus of Nazareth was one of dozens of young Jewish teachers to be put to death by the Romans in and around first-century Palestine.

    When Jesus of Nazareth’s followers fled the scene and locked themselves in a room following his arrest, they did so because they, too, had been down this road before.

    Ingrained in their collected memories were visions of other would-be saviors who amassed a significant following before getting cross with religious and political authorities. Each messiah figure’s life ended the same way: execution at the hands of the Romans, and arrest or worse for his followers.

    In the world of the first century, a crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah. And on that Friday afternoon, the disciples began to realize that the past three years of their lives had been spent following a failed Messiah, one who stands in a long line of other failed Messiahs.

    When Jesus of Nazareth’s followers fled the scene and locked themselves in a room following his arrest, they did so because they, too, had been down this road before.

    And yet here we find ourselves, two-thousand years later.

    A Jewish messianic figure publicly executed by the Roman government would not make the back page of a first-century newspaper; how in the world did we wind up here?

    The cross has become one of the most universally-recognized symbols on the planet, and Jesus one of the most universally-recognized names.

    Why? What made the crucifixion of this Jewish prophet so different from the crucifixion of the others?

    On that Friday, the Romans did not nail a revolutionary leader to the cross.

    On that Friday, the Romans did not nail a teacher born centuries before his time to the cross.

    On that Friday, the Romans did not nail a traveling wise man and miracle worker to the cross.


    On that Friday, as one Roman soldier realized moments too late, the Romans nailed God to the cross.

    And when God is nailed to a cross, we must respond.

    We could respond with detached pity, feeling sorry for Jesus but not knowing what to do about it.

    We could respond with debilitating guilt, like Javert who could not even begin to grasp the grace shown to him by Jean Valjean.

    We could respond with noise, drowning out the uncomfortable reality of the cross.

    Or we could respond with silence.

    Good Friday services end in silence, and many Christians spend part of Holy Saturday in some form of silence, too. Not just to remember the silence of the grave, but to reflect on the meaning of the Cross itself.


    Back in our cold, dark, room somewhere abroad, with our small group of naked, tired, hungry, and defeated captives huddled in a corner, the soldiers cannot believe the captives aren’t moving.

    The stalemate continues for what feels like hours, until one of the soldiers stops screaming. He lowers his gun, takes off his own clothes, and crouches down in the corner of the room next to one of the captives.

    His fellow soldiers are stunned. The captives hardly notice.

    Eventually, one of the captives opens her eyes, and sees what the soldier has done.

    One by one, some faster than others, the captives stand and walk towards their rescuers.

    Words matter, but not as much as actions.

    Do you want to know what God is like?

    Do you want to know what God thinks about you?

    Do you want to know whether God has love for you, despite what you alone know about yourself?

    Look to the Cross.

    For you Jesus Christ came into the world:
    for you he lived and showed God's love;
    for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary
    and cried at the last, 'It is accomplished';
    for you he triumphed over death
    and rose in newness of life;
    for you he ascended to reign at God's right hand.

    All this he did for you, child, though you do not know it yet.

    And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled: "We love because God loved us first.”

    Maundy Thursday

    Learning from Jesus “on the night in which he was betrayed.”

    In first-century Galatia, a small but powerful group of teachers insisted that anyone who wanted to become a Christian must show that they are truly Christian through some outward sign. A very specific outward sign, in fact: circumcision.

    After dismantling this argument throughout his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul proposes his own outward sign of the Christian faith. In what has since been dubbed the “Fruit of the Spirit,” he lists several outward signs (fruit) of a life indwelled by the Spirit.

    According to this list, what is the very first thing you should outwardly notice in the life of a Christian?


    Maundy Thursday is a celebration of two sacred moments in the life of Jesus, both of which are wrapped in love. The name itself comes from the Latin work for command (mandatum), since Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment on this sacred Thursday:

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

    This new commandment is shared in two ways, both of which are celebrated each year on Maundy Thursday.

    First, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus taught that the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. And then he followed through by assuming the role of a household slave. Peter’s initial refusal to have his feet washed, followed by his request for Jesus to wash his entire body has always struck me as capturing my own posture towards Jesus: an oscillation between full embrace and keeping what I deem to be an appropriate distance.

    After washing their feet, Jesus shares a meal with his disciples. Maundy Thursday is about foot washing, but it is also a celebration of the institution of this sacred family meal.

    New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out something about that evening that is worth considering:

    When Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.

    Jesus is instituting a very specific meal in the Last Supper, one that has been celebrated every single day somewhere on the planet since the earliest days of the Christian Church. But what is true of the Lord’s Supper can also be somewhat true of each of our meals by extension. I love the prayer below, taken from Every Moment Holy, about all meals and what they can become for us:

    Meet us in the making of this meal, O Lord, and make of it something more than a mere nourishment for the body.

    What is true of all meals is most true of the Eucharist.

    But that Thursday, and this Thursday, are about more than just a meal. When the Last Supper is revisited in 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds his readers that all of this took place “on the night in which he was betrayed.” The cross was on the horizon even as bread and wine were being shared amongst friends on the first Maundy Thursday.

    The Last Supper was the beginning of the three most important days in the history of the universe, and so Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the three most important days in our Church Year.

    May God use these days to equip us to live out the new commandment he first gave two thousand Thursdays ago.