The events of Good Friday are well known and often told by believers and followers throughout the world. Each Gospel offers only one word to describe what happened: crucified. Though we want all the gory details – we live in a culture of violence after all – not much is actually told. He was beaten; a crown of thorns was pressed on his head; nails secured him to the cross beam; a spear pierced his side. There are very few adjectives used and not much in the way of grisly poetry to elevate this story. We are left with our imaginations to fill in the spaces.
In fixating on the violence we sometimes overlook the more subtle indignities. There is the sign we read of in John’s Gospel that hangs over Jesus’ crucified head. In three languages it reads: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Today this sign is symbolized through the acronym based on the Latin letters: INRI. At that first Good Friday many saw this sign as false advertising, including the religious leaders. “He is not our king.” Some perceived this as his charge and therefore justification for this capital punishment. He says he is king of the Jews so the Romans will show you what they do to those who think they can usurp their imperial power. Maybe the sign was just a simple mockery; a humiliation. Some king, right?
What sign are you hanging on Jesus today? Is it political, using Jesus to defend your ideology? Is it a sign of convenience, labeling Jesus as your own, but only partly so? Does your sign mock Jesus because your words and attitude betray the earlier call to put down everything and pick up your own cross? What sign are you hanging on Jesus today?
There is also that matter of the soldiers gambling over Jesus’s clothes. All four Gospels, while different in many of the other details surrounding the crucifixion, tell of soldiers dividing and gambling over his clothes.
I wonder how often we pull and tug and divide over what rightfully belongs to Jesus? Through worship wars, generational divides, and denominational and theological divisiveness we tear apart the very fabric of Jesus’ identity while the rest of the world watches. In the Old City of Jerusalem stands the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where it is thought that Jesus was entombed on that first Good Friday. Today no less than seven divisions of Christians fight, many times physically, over who controls the Church. Since the 12th century a Muslim family is entrusted with the keys to the ancient and sacred site because no one else can be trusted.
How are you, how are we tearing apart that which is most precious to Christ, even at the foot of the cross?
Today is a day for us to not do much more than watch and listen, for we are in the end quite helpless. Jesus is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. So we wait through those six hours on the cross and into this night and the next.
While the Gospels give to us what some call the seven last words spoken by Jesus before his death, the words from the Gospel of John sum it all up:
It is finished.