“Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.” W.H. Auden
“The marvel of heaven and earth, of time and eternity, is the atoning death of Jesus Christ. This is the mystery that brings more glory to God than all creation.” Charles Spurgeon
The idea of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for the sins of the world can be abstract enough that we may miss its impact upon ourselves as well as upon the entire world. Abstract in that it was so long ago that it seems somewhat vague and, dare I say it, small as it recedes further back in history. Abstract in that there are a lot of people in the history of the world, so many that it seems like my sin is not significant considering the whole. Abstract in that few of us know much about crucifixion. We know even less about the realities of a sinless God condescending to become human for a lifetime, to die in the place of humans who were indifferent, hated Him, or had run away from Him in his hour of need.
I wonder if most view the events we commemorate on Good Friday as certainly difficult to contemplate, perhaps a bit cringe-worthy. I wonder if for most the commemoration is not all that disruptive or disturbing. The death of Jesus, due to the enormity of this sacrifice or the transaction it occasioned, is truly incomprehensible to our limited, self-oriented thinking. The enormity of it knows no end, its implications are mind-boggling.
Think about. At this moment, communist agents and religious and ideological zealots are planning or executing mayhem, evil, and death against Christians and others. Jesus died for their sins. Right now, pedophiles are destroying young lives, and sexual predators are ruining adult lives. Jesus died for their sins. Right now, most Americans (and citizens of every country) are planning their living with no thought of God at all. Jesus died for their sins. Murderers. Liars. Manipulators. This list of those for whom Christ died could go on to include all humanity.
Christ, Himself very God, the creator and sustainer of all, became fully human, one of us. Yet He did not allow His Godhood to interfere with the fullness of His humanity. He pitched His tent with common folk, putting up with their unredeemed humanity and loving them with a great, relentless love no matter what. He submitted to their ridicule, which gave way to abuse, and then to torture. He submitted to the most torturous death imaginable, all the while forgiving His tormentors and killers. For people who did not accept Him, for people who never would.
Even more unfathomable is the great, seemingly unbearable burden of the perfect God assuming the darkness, the weight, the horror, the tragedy, the guilt, and the enormity of the sin of the world, for all time. This is the part that we will never be able to comprehend, for we are creatures who know sin and understand culpability. We get the rightness of “just desserts.” We can never in this life understand perfect sinlessness taking on not only all sin, but all consequences.
Francis Spufford, writing in his book, “Unapologetic – Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense,” draws a picture in words of Christ Jesus on the cross that begins to approach the enormity of this spiritual transaction that took place on the divine, cosmic level.
“He cannot do anything deliberate now. The strain of his whole weight on his outstretched arms hurts too much. The pain fills him up, displaces thought, as much for him as it has for everyone else who has ever been stuck to one of these horrible contrivances, or for anyone else who dies in pain from any of the world’s grim arsenal of possibilities. And yet he goes on taking in. It is not what he does, it is what he is. He is all open door: to sorrow, suffering, guilt, despair, horror, everything that cannot be escaped, and he does not even try to escape it, he turns to meet it, and claims it all as his own. This is mine now, he is saying; and he embraces it with all that is left in him, each dark act, each dripping memory, as if it were something precious, as if it were itself the loved child tottering homeward on the road. But there is so much of it. So many injured children; so many locked rooms; so much lonely anger; so many bombs in public places; so much vicious zeal; so many bored teenagers at roadblocks; so many drunk girls at parties someone thought they could have a little fun with; so many jokes that go too far; so much ruining greed; so much sick ingenuity; so much burned skin. The world he claims, claims him. It burns and stings, it splinters and gouges, it locks him round and drags him down…”
If we could begin to grasp the enormity the transaction undertaken on our behalf, we might begin to experience the commemoration of Good Friday as a daily reality.