It always puzzled me why we call today “Good Friday.”
This is after all the day that we remember the crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It stands to reason, therefore that today is not, historically speaking, a good day. This is the day that the maker of all the universe was put to death, undeservedly, at the hands of rebellious humanity, who cried out “Crucify him” in unison with one another. And in the greatest act of injustice and cruelty, the creator has been crucified by the creation. Which is why, I’ve always thought that it was more appropriate to think of this as the worst Friday. Ever.
As it turns out, the word “Good” as it is used here originally meant holy, or pious. So this is, historically, a Holy Friday. And, undeniably, the outcoming of the salvation of all of humanity through this one act is quite good.
Because this is the day that God’s work in salvation is coming to its climax. It is the day that the magnitude of God’s love for humanity is on display, in all it’s raw, brutal glory. Because as we profess, God so loved the world that God gave the one and only Son. And while the fullness of God’s glory is seen in the resurrection, resurrection necessitates a death to precede it.
Crucifixion is a brutal affair. It was meant as a message of deterrence by Rome to show just how miserable they will make you if you dare defy them. And it was an especially favored punishment for those who resisted Roman law and occupation, and fought against the empire and its right to rule. It was brutal enough, indeed, that there is little written about it–not because it didn’t happen often, but because it was a difficult thing to write about or to read about. Everyone knew how awful it was, and no one wanted to write about it. Even in our Gospels and their accounts of the death of Jesus, they simply write, “They crucified him.”
And after having hung there on the cross for approaching 6 hours, approaching death, he called out, “I thirst.” And so some of the bystanders took a sponge tied to a branch, filled it with sour wine, perhaps vinegar, and raised it to his mouth for him to drink.
“I thirst.” Of the seven final sayings of Jesus, the Seven Words of Jesus, this is known as the “Saying of Distress.” And it echoes back to Psalm 69. This is not the first time that John alludes to this psalm. During the Temple Cleansing, which according to John’s Gospel happened several years prior to the crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples later reflected on this event and were reminded of the verse from the Psalm, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” And later, we read these verses:
You know the insults I receive,
and my shame and dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
It is so very human of Jesus, the divine one who existed before all creation with God, to call out in thirst. Never did he complain about the pain—as the Scriptures say, he was like the lamb that is silent before its shearers—but here he calls out about his thirst. And even more so, calling out like this completes the fulfillment of the Scriptures in Psalm 69, as John writes to us that it does.
How far we have come from his meeting of the woman at the well in Samaria, who when Jesus asked her for a drink then spoke about a river of living water that leads to eternal life, and those who drink of this water will never thirst again.
But those echoes are still here, with us. Because in the self-sacrifice of his life, he has become that spring of living water which he spoke of.
Returning again to Psalm 69, after extolling God for the righteousness to come and God’s vindication over evil, we read in the Psalm:
Let heaven and earth praise God,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and all God’s servants shall live there and possess it;
the children of the servants shall inherit it,
and those who love the name of the Lord shall live in it. (Verses 34-36)
Vindication will come for God, and life and hope and joy, but it will come at a great price. Jesus is, after all, our suffering servant, whose death has brought life for us all.
But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. We like seeing things tied up all neatly with a happy ending to them. But not today. Today may be a Holy Friday, but it is also the worst Friday.
Consider where our Passion reading for today leaves us:
“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”