“They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.”
In the opening lines of Jurgen Moltmann’s greatest theological work, The Crucified God, he says, “The cross is not and cannot ever be loved.” The cross was the source of greatest shame and torture in Jesus’ time. For us to begin to grasp the power of Resurrection Sunday, we must lean into the despair of Friday. For Jesus and his disciples, Friday was the end of a movement. “Good Friday,” as we call it today, was not good.
On “Good Friday,” Jesus suffered and died as a political prisoner of the Roman Empire. The cross was reserved not for the worst, most vile and violent criminals. It was rather reserved for the criminals who posed a threat to the powers that be. The cross was a device used to torture people who tried to start uprisings or insurrections against the Empire. Being crucified, in the Roman Empire, was the punishment for treasonous political leaders.
Jesus’ followers called him Lord, which in itself doesn’t seem too controversial. However, Ceasar was considered Lord, so saying Jesus was Lord was implying that Ceasar was not. Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God which turned out to be very different from the Kingdom of Ceasar. He was a threat to the political and religious establishment, a threat to law and order, so they killed him as they would any political prisoner.
The beatings were brutal. The death was gruesome. At the end of the day, little hope remained. The crucifixion was a message to Jesus’ followers that if they continued this movement, they would find the same fate. The Jewish tradition said, “For anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse,” (Deut. 21:23b). Jesus’ followers would have seen this event in light of the Jewish law and fled, abandoning hope and the way of life Jesus taught. Despair and fear would have set in because they had no way of knowing what was right around the corner.
On this side of Good Friday, we see that God suffered that day. We see that God took suffering into God’s very being. The one Jesus called Abba experienced incredible pain as well as God watched and suffered with Jesus. In his suffering, Jesus became brother to all of us, all of creation, and showed the Triune God’s commitment to compassionate love. Jesus showed that God is willing to suffer with humanity. Looking back on Good Friday on this side of the Resurrection, our hope can be restored that Jesus’ death was not the end. However, it is important to wrestle with and rest in the despair, hopelessness, and suffering of Good Friday.
Today, the only appropriate prayer is the prayer of the psalmist that Jesus echoes on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”