Today is Good Friday, a very important day in the Christian calendar. It is the day we remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us by allowing himself to be crucified on a cross at the hands of the Romans.
That is a very simplistic way of telling this part of the Easter story, and as I have grown in my faith and understanding in recent years, I have come see the layers and subtleties in it.
For example, as a child I thought it was Pontius Pilate who had put Jesus to death but I now understand that whilst yes, Jesus was brought before him for trial, Pilate tried to persuade the Jewish authorities to let him go as he couldn’t see that any crime had been committed.
Another example is the final statements Jesus made whilst he was dying on the cross. One of them was “Woman here is your son” which I thought to be a statement directed towards himself but now I understand that it was an act of compassion on Jesus’ part. He was handing over the care of Mary to his “beloved disciple”, thus making sure she was looked after financially and domestically in her old age. We don’t know who he was referring to and scholars have long since thought it was John, especially as he is one of the gospel writers.
But why crucifixion? Why that particular form of execution?
The Romans were known for their powerful presence and they reserved crucifixion as a form of execution reserved for those who challenged their authority. It was a cruel, tortuous death that took hours and hours to complete. In Jesus’ case, he had been flogged beforehand and would have been in excruciating pain from his wounds even before he was nailed to the cross. The Roman soldiers were known to take pity on certain prisoners by breaking their legs when they had been up there for so long. It might sound odd to say that it was a merciful thing to do, but by breaking their legs, the prisoner would not have been able to support themselves and would therefore have suffocated quicker. They did not do that for Jesus – possibly because they thought he was half-dead before they even nailed him up.
That was the how, but what about the why?
The Jewish authorities said their law stated that anyone claiming to be the Son of God must be put to death, and as Jesus had been hailed as just that, he had to be executed. It was customary for the Romans to allow a prisoner to be set free at the time of the Jewish Passover as a sign of goodwill. Pilate offered them a choice of Barabbas or Jesus, and they chose to let Barabbas go free whilst calling for Jesus to be crucified.
From a scriptural point of view, we know from Isaiah and Zechariah that God would send a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins. A spotless, sinless lamb who would be the ultimate sacrifice before God, whose death would mean all sin would be forgiven and we would all be washed clean by his blood. They both make reference to the sacrificial lamb being “pierced for our transgressions”, which we now know to be the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of those prophecies.
We had a service at church this morning that told the story of Good Friday in a series of readings and hymns. We told of Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution and as the readings were given, we laid certain items on a laid-down cross on the chancel steps.
You can see the feathers that symbolised Peter’s denial, the purple robe the soldiers dressed Jesus in, the rope they used to haul him up, the crown of thorns placed mockingly on his head, a sign that the soldiers placed over his head, a jug and bowl that symbolise Pilate’s “washing his hands of the whole matter” and the dice that the soldiers cast to claim Jesus’ clothing after he had died.
In the photograph you can see the table of candles lit for Good Friday at the foot of the Paschal candle. Further back you can see the closed tomb at the altar which we used in our Experience Easter events with the local school children. It will be opened for Sunday morning showing the evidence of the risen Lord.