Second, only to Easter Sunday, Good Friday is the holiest day on the Christian calendar. It was the day that Jesus was “crucified, dead, and buried” according to the Apostles’ Creed. He died alone, hanging from a cross, between two thieves, deserted by nearly all of his followers. In Christian scripture, only his disciple John remained with him. And the women. According to the Gospel of Matthew [28:55-56] “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there, looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
He died just before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, which would have begun at sunset that day. There was time only for a hasty removal of his body and its placement in a borrowed tomb. Scripture also tells us that his disciples and other followers remained huddled in the Upper Room, behind locked doors, where only the day before they had eaten and sung hymns with the man they believed was the Messiah, come to free Israel from Roman domination.
We can only imagine their thoughts during that long night and following day. Their hopes and dreams were shattered. They must have felt total despair and abandonment. Jewish law forbade them from traveling on the Sabbath, so from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday they lay trapped where they had hidden. That Saturday is now called Holy Saturday by the church, although it is doubtful they found anything holy about it at all.
This is a day for all Christians, of whatever persuasion, to reflect on suffering, hopelessness, and despair. These conditions still persist throughout the world. From the comfort of our homes and our churches, this day we must not forget our brothers and sisters of all religions who have no hope. Who suffer from hunger and disease. Whose lives are filled with despair. As long as such conditions persist, Christians must bear the burden of relieving them, wherever they are found.
No doubt the disciples in the Upper Room discussed and recalled the teachings of Jesus. And we should do likewise. But not simply the teachings of hope. Some of his words are hard and challenging, although through familiarity and constant repetition they may have lost their impact.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In other words, God, please treat me exactly as I treat others. Do not be any more kind to me than I am to someone who has hurt or offended me.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers “You have heard that it was said “You shall love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” [Matthew 6:43-44].
Love. Bless. Do good. Pray.
These are actions, not thoughts. Nor are we given the option of selecting just one. According to Jesus, it is not enough to pray for your enemies. You must love them. You must bless them. And you must do good to them. There is no more “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, life for a life.” Hate begets hate. Only love can drive out hate.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Christians call this The Golden Rule, but nearly every religion teaches this is one way or another. There is a famous story, at least among the Jews, that in the first century C.E. a famous rabbi and possible contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel was asked to explain the Torah in five minutes while standing on one foot. His response? “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.” [Babylonian Talmud]
On this day, this Good Friday, we should remember that being a Christian is simple, but it is not easy. Jesus never promised that it would be. We enter through the narrow gate. But, unlike his disciples on that dark Friday of His death, we have the promise and the gift of Easter.