Good Friday not a day to take lightly. Good Friday is about evil and good, blame and forgiveness, prison and freedom, death and life.
It is hard for us to take these things seriously because they are often used to amuse and entertain us. A film like The Passion of Christ shows in terrible detail the tortures inflicted on Christ on Good Friday. But we know the blood and the screaming is fake, and that the actor will go home and have a good night’s sleep before going to work again the next morning. We can tell ourselves that Christ’s suffering is not real and that after a rest in the tomb he will spring up again on Easter morning, as fresh as a flower and as lively as an Easter rabbit.
Not so. Christ’s suffering is real. On Good Friday the problem of evil is tackled head on by God in Jesus Christ. All the evil in the world seems to be focussed on Jesus today. How shall we understand?
Some people say that God’s justice demands punishment for disobedience. They say that human disobedience can only be wiped out in blood. So God sent his only son, Jesus, to suffer the punishment in our place so that we would live and Jesus would die. There are some good biblical texts to support this argument, especially in the Old Testament and the writings of St Paul, who was, after all, a student of the Old Testament.
What stirs me up is that this idea of justice is totally unfair! It is not justice at all, it is accusation, it is blame, it anger and fear and hurt seeking a victim. The whole story of the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus, as we have just read it, shows how justice was twisted and bent to bring about the death of an innocent man. Can this be God at work? Can God work in this perversion of justice?
The Roman system of justice was designed to punish the guilty and to free the innocent. It was not bad law. It may have been harsh, but it was written to keep the peace. Pontius Pilate was hardhearted, but he was appointed to uphold the law. The Jewish High Priests and the Council certainly wanted to keep their power, they may have been corrupt, but the Jewish religious law, the Law of Moses, was given by God to guard and guide God’s people.
What we see is the tragic way that human beings can take what is good and twist it for use in evil purposes. Roman law could not save Jesus; the Law of Moses was powerless to keep him alive. Even Jesus’ own wonderful character, his kindness, his wisdom, his deep compassion and unshakable faith in God could not save him. In the end the whole weight of human sinfulness came crashing down on him and he died.
Jesus knew that his was going to happen, he had told his disciples several times that he would be imprisoned, beaten and crucified. God knew it would happen, it had been revealed to the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before. Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant of God, one so true to God that he attracted human wickedness like a lightning conductor, one who would be so mistreated that he would no longer even look human.
When Jesus was less than six weeks old, his parents brought him to the temple in Jerusalem. There they met Simeon, who told Mary that the child would be “a sign that was spoken against” and that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart as well. As the old hymn puts it, Jesus was born to die upon the cross.
No one is to blame for the death of Jesus; neither Pontius Pilate nor Judas Iscariot nor the Jews not even us. We believe that Jesus bore the sins of the whole world on the cross and this is what he was born for and what he died for.
This is the justice of God, that no one is blamed, not even for the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus sets us free from the need to play the blame game. Everybody is guilty, we have all sinned, we are all caught up in human wickedness, but we are not to be blamed. The death of Jesus put an end to that.
Jesus sets us free to rebuild our lives and the life of God’s creation.
But we find ourselves turning our back on freedom and making new prisons for ourselves. We have to find someone to blame, someone to whom we can say, “It’s all your fault!” We have to find someone to accuse. And if we cannot find anyone else, we blame ourselves.
This is not right. In the bible it is Satan who is the accuser, it is the devil who finds fault and points the finger of blame. Somehow we poor humans have been tricked again. Jesus offers us freedom, and instead we choose a prison.
We don’t have to! We don’t have to make accusations, we don’t have to blame.
God has given us Good Friday so that every year, every Friday, every day of our lives we can be reminded that once for all God has set us free. Set free for freedom’s sake, as St Paul says.
Let us embrace that freedom, let us see if, by God’s grace, by the power of Christ’s death on the cross, we can live each day without blaming anyone.
If we succeed, we will know that we have taken Good Friday seriously.