Good Friday? That seems like an odd name for such a day as this. Some say it’s actually an accident of language – the German for “God” or “holy” sounding like “good” in English. It wasn’t actually a good day, but God made good use of it.
Have you ever been awakened in the middle of the night by a leg or foot cramp?
You react to the cramp by pushing against it, and that only makes it worse, so you try not to push against it but to push with it, thinking that will ease the cramp, and that, too, seems only to make it worse.
For 30 seconds or a minute or more, you try not to cry out in pain. You can’t do anything except feel that muscle cramping. It controls everything you do. You want to roll around and beat your fists against the bed and scream.
And that’s just one muscle cramping. Try to imagine, if you can, all of your muscles cramping like that at the same time – not only your calf and foot muscles but also the muscles in your thigh, in your hip, in your lower back, all the way up your back into your shoulders and your neck and the full length of both arms and hands and your fingers, too.
Imagine every muscle in your body cramping that way, but not stopping after 30 seconds or even after a minute; instead continuing for hours – sometimes relenting briefly because your muscles are exhausted, but then seizing up again, and the pain is even worse then because your muscles are so tired.
Imagine that continuing for six hours. Now consider what is causing your muscles to cramp. Big nails have driven into the base of your hands and into your feet. The nails in your hands go right through a major nerve center.
The pain sets your whole body on fire. It’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before, and then you’re elevated so that the weight of your body is hanging on those nails and the only way you can relieve the pain of that weight is to push up on the nails in your feet.
You roll and writhe in agony, and every movement makes it worse, but you can’t stop moving, and you can’t stop the pain. It goes on this way until finally your body just can’t take it anymore. Your chest muscles are so tight that you can no longer breathe. Slowly, you suffocate.
Jesus suffered this way for six hours on Good Friday. It was not all his suffering that day. But it’s the part we remember the most, the six hours he hung on a cross. For us.
There are many ways of explaining how his suffering and death save us. I think it’s enough to understand that God’s purpose in the cross is to bring us into right relationship with God and neighbor and to join us in a community of faith that testifies to God’s love.
Writing hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a servant of God who suffers for us all. Isaiah 53 is deep and dark and mysterious, and it can’t help but remind us of Jesus. Hear how Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message.
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God – a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried – our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him – our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we are healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.
He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off – and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.
Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he’d give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it – life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him. Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many “righteous ones,” as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly – the best of everything, the highest honors – because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many. He took up the cause of all the lost sheep.
An old spiritual asks, “Were you there?” Of course not. It happened a long time ago.
But Jesus was there. God-in-person was there. And that’s what counts. It still counts for you today.
A version of this message was delivered online to Edgerton United Methodist Church on April 2, 2021, Good Friday.