the story within The Story: A Good Friday Meditation
March 31, 2018
Today was Good Friday. As I typically do, I shared some Bible verses on Facebook related to the crucifixion, particularly this one from the page of the band Casting Crowns:
I kind of expected people would just slap some “likes” on it and call it a day, because that’s what we do. However, one of my friends surprised me. My friend Sarah has had a tough last year or so after the loss of her infant son, Charlie, whom she blogs about in a very transparent, candid, and ultimately moving manner at her website. Having been privileged to see how God has used her openness about infant loss to help others, I clearly understood the motivation behind her comment on the photo:
“I can’t help but think about Mary, and of God, and what they were going through.”
I was kind of blown away. How often do we really think about Mary and God, perhaps the two most significant players in the life of Christ, when we think about His crucifixion? What you probably think about on Good Friday is more than likely similar to what I think about – the horror of what the Lord suffered on our behalf, the supreme act of love it entailed, and of course, how grateful we are that He was obedient to His Father’s will. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Our salvation is through His death and resurrection alone and we are indeed to be grateful. But if we don’t think about the fact that Mary watched her firstborn Son die a death He did not deserve, if we don’t consider that God had to turn His face away from Jesus in His worst moment of loneliness and suffering, we miss a big part of the story.
When I do what my friend’s comment called me to do, the story of Good Friday takes on a different focus. Mary looks up at Jesus on the cross, close enough to smell the sweat, the blood, deafened by the crowd calling for His death, the same crowd that just a few days before had cried “Hosanna!” and called Him the King of Israel. “Woman, behold your son,” He tells her, speaking of His best friend, who will now assume responsibility for caring for her. All at once, she sees His entire life – her agony during childbirth in a dirty stable, the memories she treasured up in her heart in the months that followed the arrival of her Son, her panic when she and Joseph realized He had been left behind at the Temple followed by mixed relief and pride when she found Him teaching there, that moment at the wedding in Cana when, without drawing attention to Himself, He transformed water into wine. She has known this day had to come – the angel told her she must name Him Jesus, because He would save the people from their sins. She has always known He belonged to God, not to her, and that this is the only way for Jesus to accomplish what He came to do. A few days later, she will be among those who are stunned and overjoyed to learn He is risen, but we aren’t there yet. The searing emotional wounds are still fresh. She is still in this very real, very terrible moment where death is imminent and it is impossible to think that there is life after it.
I think sometimes, we get too far ahead of ourselves on Good Friday. We go to evening services and take communion and focus on our salvation, all the while with our main focus on Sunday, when we get to celebrate the fact that He is alive instead of meditating on His death. Hindsight is 20/20 and we know that Sunday is coming. But imagine not having that knowledge. Imagine being Jesus’ family and friends, who, despite having heard Him say that He must lay down His life and pick it up again, probably missed that entirely and were consumed by loss. We call it “Good Friday” because we are on this side of the cross. But for Mary, and for Jesus' other family members and friends, it was the worst day imaginable.
There’s another lesson here, too, one that my friend who engaged me in the conversation that led to this post knows well. We cannot under any circumstances be dismissive of anyone’s pain, anger, or grief. Often, we are not intentionally or consciously dismissive – we think we are saying something helpful, when in reality, we are superimposing our perception of the situation over someone’s agonizing reality. This is particularly true for Christians – “I’ll pray for you” is an empty promise if you don’t actually do it, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is a pat phrase that is a misinterpretation of scripture, and “Heaven must have needed an angel” is an utterly unacceptable response to someone’s loss. Imagine someone saying that to Mary in the aftermath of the crucifixion. Unthinkable. In one of my favorite passages of scripture, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Paul writes, “…as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Comfort does not always involve words. Often, it involves listening to the other person's story.
This blog is all about stories. I write a lot about my own writing, works of art that inspire me, and especially the unique role artists serve as they create as God created. But often, we fail to look at the stories in the Bible as more than just text on a thin page in a leather book. We need to read as deeply into them as we do into characters in other books, with as much care as we take to understand the motives and traits of historical figures. When we think about the emotions of those people, what their experiences must have been like, they take on greater dimension, and so does God’s Word. We don’t just learn more about their role in the story. We learn more about its Author.