There is no escaping from the brutal physical reality of Good Friday. Nails, wood, thorns, flesh all combine in a shocking and vicious form of punishment that sadly bears only one witness to the many forms of inhumanity man perpetrates on man. It can be so easy when you have been walking with the Lord for some time to become insensitive to the sheer cruelty of the events that day, or maybe skip over the details straight into the joy and wonder of Easter Day. Good Friday is a time to stop and ponder that blackness which lies deep within the human soul. You may call it sin. You may call it your genetic predisposition. Call it what you will, it lurks within each of us.
And yet Good Friday is far more than simply a demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man. In fact the gospel writers are remarkably restrained about the physical aspects of Jesus’ suffering. For here is a man whose nature is so attractive and so compelling that our focus is drawn away from the hard, practical details to the extraordinary force of love that He reveals even to the end. Here is a man who even while He is being crucified prays: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 24:34). Here is a man who turns to His mother and His beloved disciple and says: Dear woman, here is your son…here is your mother (John 19:26,27). Here is a man who says to the penitent thief: I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
Today we rightly focus on Jesus, on His suffering and His love. And it is so easy to recast Good Friday in terms of our own individual piety or personal devotion. But we need also to pause and consider what the death of our Lord Jesus Christ means for our life as a church. Because even as we think about the body of Jesus pierced and broken we need to ponder and think what it means to say: We are the body of Christ. Even as we think about the depths of Jesus’ love as He bears the weight of our sin and the wrath that should have been ours, we need to ponder and think what it means to obey Jesus command: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12).
And when we do that, I believe we will begin to see that the body of Christ is not a religious club, or an institution that meets only on a Sunday. It is a group of people who have been called and chosen by God to pattern their lives according to the cross. So as Jesus’ body was broken and pierced, we too are called to be a physical presence that will often appear suffering and weak. As Jesus revealed the sheer abundance of God’s love even as He was nailed to a cross, we too are called to love the hardened soldier, the grieving mother, the thief, even when we ourselves are grieving and suffering.
But we cannot do this in our own strength. A church may become more successful by better organisation or more prudent management. But that does not necessarily mean it will truly operate as the body of Christ. If we are to be the body of Christ we need above all else to animated by the Spirit of Christ. That’s why one of the first things Jesus did when he appeared in the Upper Room was to breathe on His disciples and say: Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). This was more than a foretaste of Pentecost. It was teaching the disciples that they, and we, are called to share in the life, death and resurrection of our Saviour at the very deepest level. Jesus is to be our pattern, our passion, our inspiration. But this is only possible if we are constantly filled by the Spirit of the One who humbled Himself even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:1-13).
So this Good Friday by all means reflect what Jesus’ death means for you personally. But also reflect that by faith we become members of the body of this same Christ. Because it is at the cross that revival in the most genuine sense takes place, when churches collectively respond to the death of Jesus, and open themselves to become His body, animated by His Spirit, living out His commands. Whatever the cost. Whatever the consequences. Whatever God calls us to become.