Deacon Sue Nebel
Good Friday. The second day of the Triduum, the three sacred days leading up to Easter. This day, right in the middle, is the darkest, the most solemn of the three. We began the Triduum last night in a somewhat festive mood, gathering for an agape meal. Then we shifted our focus and the mood darkened. We remembered in words and actions the events of the night before Jesus’ death. The last meal with his disciples. The footwashing. His final commandment: to love one another.
Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum, ends in darkness and quiet. Tomorrow, Holy Saturday, is a day of anticipation and preparation for the evening ahead. The Easter Vigil when the light of Christ dispels the darkness. New life. Hope. Celebration. But not today, not on Good Friday. Today we gather in sadness, emptiness. The church has been stripped bare. Today we hear the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial. His death on a cross. His body placed in a tomb.
Three days. Three sets of events. Three symbols. Maundy Thursday: the basin and towel of footwashing. Good Friday: the cross. Holy Saturday: the empty tomb. Important, all three of them, but it is the cross that Christian tradition has made central. Walk into a Christian church and you will find a cross, front and center, just as it is here. We encounter crosses in many forms in our church life. We carry crosses in procession. We see them in decorations, vestments, service leaflets, and prayer books. Church logos and flags. Many people wear crosses as jewelry. Some simple, some elaborate.
Today, on Good Friday, we focus on one cross. The instrument of punishment and death for criminals in the Roman Empire. Jesus sentenced to die because of his teachings and actions. Words and actions that were judged to be a threat to those in power. So, they decided to get rid of him. In the cruelest, most humiliating kind of death. The cross of Good Friday is not an ornate decorated object. The cross of Good Friday is plain, heavy wood. Rough, stark. In a few minutes, (or Kristin) will bring that kind of cross forward and we will honor it. Silently affirming its central place in our hearts and in our lives as Christians.
Good Friday is a day of commemoration, of remembering. Good Friday invites us into the story of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. The betrayal by Judas. The scattering of the other disciples. Jesus questioned by Pilate. Mocked and scorned by the crowd around him. The grim details of Jesus’ death. His body, taken down, wrapped in spices and cloth, and placed in a tomb.
Good Friday into something else as well. Good Friday invites us to reflect on what the Cross means to us. What image of the Cross is most important to us? Which Cross have we taken into ourselves? To shape who we are and what we do.
· Is it the Cross of Good Friday? Jesus’ suffering and death—and the meaning that we give to it. Jesus as sacrifice. Jesus dying for us.
· Is it the Cross of Jesus’ teaching in Scripture? Jesus told those who wanted to join him, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” A cross that we choose. The Cross of Discipleship.
· Our most important cross may be one that we experience in the liturgies of the church. The Cross of Blessing. The gestures of the hands of a bishop or priest. Blessing the bread and wine of the Eucharistic meal. Blessing the people at the end of a service, reminding them that they are children of God, loved by God.
· Or perhaps, it is the Cross of Baptism that is most important to us. The declaration of faith and commitment to Christ. The final action of the baptismal rite: the anointing with oil and sign of the cross on the forehead. With the words, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” A Cross of Identity
Today, as you go out from this liturgy of Good Friday. I invite you to take one of these images of the cross with you. Your favorite. Or perhaps, you might want to take another one. To see how it fits. Whatever you choose, take it with you. Carry it with you, as you move through the rest of the day. Reflect on it. Find a place for it deep within yourself. Let it work on you. et it shape you. Today, tomorrow, and beyond.