The Gift of the Cross

Lectionary Reflections for Good Friday (C)

Readings for Good Friday, Year C, Apr. 9, 2004

  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12
  • Hebrews 10:1-25
  • John (18:1-40) 19:1-37

Every Good Friday, for the past ten years, I have been reminded of the day when young Jamal came to my pastoral office, on the behest of his grandmother, for me to explain to him the significance of the day. Annoyed that his only Friday of spring break was, as he described it, “spent all day in church on an execution,” Jamal banged on my door for his appointment. Slouched in the chair before me his wary eyes met mine. And it was in that moment I knew I had to make good with the ten minutes he had allotted me.

I explained to Jamal that Good Friday is an important day in the Christian liturgical calendar because it is not only the day of remembering Jesus’ death at Calvary, but it is also the day that invites us each year as Christians to think of new ways that might move us toward living more faithfully in the blessing of the Resurrection. As a violent death that has gone unnoticed through millennia, Jesus’ day of execution becomes our day of truth-telling that, unlike the Roman officials, invites us to emulate Jesus’ ethic of accountability, his paradigm for social justice, and his act of love for humanity.

As a violent death that has gone unnoticed through millennia, Jesus’ day of execution becomes our day of truth-telling that, unlike the Roman officials, invites us to emulate Jesus’ ethic of accountability, his paradigm for social justice, and his act of love for humanity.

In calling the High Priest on his actions (John 18:20-23), Jesus speaking his truth to power in the face of imminent death is a defiant act but also an act of an ethic of accountability. “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. . . If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

Jesus’ day of execution as a paradigm for social justice invites us to not only look at the cross in that instance in 33 A.D., but the event also invites us to look at the cross through time. And in looking at the cross along the human time line we are made to see all the places in the world where violence has been hidden, unexamined and unaccounted for, such as the killing fields of Cambodia, the death camps of Auschwitz, the genocidal murders of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, and the enslavement of people of the African Diaspora here in the U.S. South.

The cross in this way functions as the site where all forms of violence is exposed and where all forms of injustice are delegitimized. And in so doing, the cross then demystifies evil and the cross forces you to look at your actions and the actions of your government in light of it.

As an act of his love for humanity, Jesus gives us the gift of the cross. The cross is the site where Christ meets us neither as a sacrificial lamb as a symbol of redemptive suffering nor as a divine transaction as a sign for our sins, but instead Christ meets us as a co-sufferer in the world as evidence of his presence delicately tying our fragile humanity to one another.

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