A Good Friday Reflection

Today is Good Friday…

Today I woke up at 3:45 am with the pious intention of going to pray for one hour at the so-called Asbury House Of Prayer (AHOP). Well, I made it out of bed and onto the couch. Next thing I knew, it was 5:00 am…

I guess I felt that I needed to earn back my demerit, so I began to clumsily and sleepily unload the dishwasher and reload it with the dishes I had been neglecting for the past few days—one of the few choirs designated to my gracious wife’s “forgetful” husband. As I was attempting to reduce the mountain to a manageable mole-hill, I heard the sharp shattering of delicate glass. The loud shatter broke the morning silence…The cup was broken. 

“They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray”…And He said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake!” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I will, but what you will.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak…And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mk 14:32-42).

Twenty-seven years ago, April 9, 1982, I was born. It was Good Friday. For the past twenty-seven years, my birth has been celebrated in the dark shadow of Jesus’ death. Every year, as I reflect on the inaugural day of my being raised into life, I do so with the nagging reminder that on the same day the Lord of life was lowered into a tomb.

Twenty-seven years later…Good Friday.

This morning I was confronted with an analogy of my own life. I had one task: “Keep awake and pray…” I could not do it. For, indeed, my eyes were very heavy; my spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak. Next thing I knew, the cup was broken.

I don’t even remember making the choice to get back on the couch this morning. I remember waking up…but that’s it. When I read the story of Gethsemane, I feel sorry for the disciples. Fighting exhaustion is one of life’s greatest battles. It is a battle that reveals the limits of the human will. It is a battle that must be fought with the hope and promise of relief. It is the cup that by human nature must be passed. Jesus’ command to “Stay awake!” is, in fact, an impossible command. It is a command that reveals only the fact that we cannot stay awake. His command to overcome our slumber reveals only that we cannot. 

So this morning I was confronted with the grimacing fact that my life is marked with the slumber of my own sin. My willing and well-meaning spirit is repressed by weak and tired flesh. There are many today who talk about Jesus as though he came only to show us how to live, that his primary role was exemplar…not Savior. But I find, at least in honest reflection, that the life of Christ is not merely an example to follow, because, quite frankly, we cannot follow his example. If we say we can, we lie (1 John). I think one of the reasons Christ calls us to follow Him is to show us that we cannot. We stumble behind him, napping along the way. But he calls us, nonetheless. He calls us to take up our cross. He calls us to follow him to Calvary. He calls us to be crucified with him. He calls us to drink of the cup that’s been handed to us… But when we arrive at Calvary, we discover that only He is crucified. Our cups are broken. 

It is fitting to be born on Good Friday, because it illustrates something about human life. It illustrates that “human life” is a contradiction in terms. Human life is an impossible achievement, because human life is marked by human death. To be born is to die. The curse of Good Friday is the inevitable fate we all share. Jesus’ command to “Stay awake!” is really a command to “Stay alive!”…but we cannot. The truth is, we need Jesus to stay awake for us. We need Jesus to stay alive for us. The mysterious cup that was given Jesus at Gethsemane is a cup filled with our death. When God hands us our cup, when he calls us to deal with the curse of our own life, the result is always the same. We break it. We pour out our death upon Jesus’ life and Good Friday is born. 

The celebration of Easter is a celebration born out of the darkest day in all of history, today, Good Friday. When we celebrate eternal life, we secretly celebrate Jesus’ death. The colors of Easter are all tinted by the shadow of the cross. In every basket of Easter eggs, which symbolize new life, there can always be found at least one that has been stained with a dark red dye… 

Our call to follow Christ is above all a call to be spectators, to be witnesses of the one whose life was made a spectacle by our death. We are called above all to behold the cost of our own sin, the curse that we embrace in our slumber. We are called to follow Christ so that we can bear witness to the spectacle of a Crucified God. Any attempt to tell of a gospel of life, of love, of following Christ, that is not stained with the dark red dye that splashes upon our gaze, is no gospel at all. It is an Easter without a Good Friday, a resurrection without a death, a favor from God but not his furious love. It is a dispassionate Passion. 

So I encourage you today to celebrate your birthday, because today marks the day that your birth became possible, the day that life became possible. And as we move forward to Sunday’s celebration, let us stumble toward the empty tomb without bypassing the mountain of death, on which all our cups were broken. Smile for Sunday but set aside a tear for today. Embrace the whole Gospel with all its nails and thorns. Behold the God who drank your death. And love him as though your life depended on it…because your life does depend on it.

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