Around the world today church bells will toll 33 times. Despite the pandemic, millions will go to church, and Christians will partake in various traditions – from eating hot cross buns to wearing black. All of this is done in honor of Jesus the Christ. It all sounds a little tired and outdated to those who do not “get” Christianity. What can this dark and mournful day teach us in these strange times? Many are suffering; why highlight more of the same? Good questions.
For once, we can safely say that it’s about the destination rather than the journey. Good Friday takes us to Easter, that most joyful of holidays represented by fluffy bunnies and chocolates in baskets. However, the symbols belie the essence of a holy day traditionaly marked by gratitude, reflection, and solemnity. On Good Friday, the Christian pauses to focus on the suffering of Jesus and recognize it as God’s method to bring humanity to salvation where eternal joy can be found.
It seems astounding to the non-believer: God kills his son to save his people. However, this sacrifice opens the door to sustainable joy, peace, and love. Most of us recognize how elusive these three states of being are here on earth. Nevertheless, we employ myriad devices to achieve the desires of our hearts. Some of us try to control everything. Others believe in the old “Sola Bootstrappa” method – try harder, work longer, and “Nevah, nevah, nevah give up.” Then there are those who diligently seek perfection, believing it will be effective in quenching these yearnings.
These methods may bring us peace for a time or joy for a season, but inevitably the troubles of this world overtake us. We worry about and fret over things past, the problems of today, and fears of tomorrow. Eventually, we come to realize that what we seek never lasts, and we become frustrated.
A fellow in the Bible understands this frustration. The prophet Jeremiah put it perfectly when he cried out, ” … peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). Nicknamed the “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah could see the gathering storm ahead. He begged and pleaded for a crumbling nation to recognize its coming demise. But the people did not listen. Jeremiah could no more provide peace to them than we can control a deadly virus with tentacles wrapped around the world.
Good Friday is the answer to what we seek in life if we take the time to hear it. Many people realize that an essential element in a loving relationship is sacrifice. We give our time, talent, or treasure to put the other person first. True love is always in the cost.
God demonstrated this perfectly when he chose Jesus, his beloved Son, to die as a sacrifice. Why would he do this? Because he wants to show his love to each of us in a way that we can recognize. The cross of Jesus has been calling out to us for millennia. It speaks of the things that matter most – love, peace, joy, and freedom – but does so in a permanent rather than fleeting way.
Central to the foundation of the Reformation are five phrases that capture the path to salvation: Sola scriptura, Sola fide, Sola gratia, Solo Christo, and Soli Deo gloria. Scripture, faith, grace, Christ, and the glory of God are all, in one way or another, tangled up in the cross. It is God’s gift to all who are bold enough to search for him.
We come to this world not knowing why or for how long. But we need not leave it not knowing where we will go if we listen carefully to the message of the cross that cries out to us on Good Friday.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.