Eastbound traffic on North Avenue just past Kuhn Road slowed Sunday after church as cars braked for a lone Canadian Wild Goose aimlessly wandering along the far right lane. Opposite on the west bound middle lane was the mangled body of Canadian Wild Goose that had been hit and killed by a car. Tears rolled down my cheek, surprising me of my emotional reaction. Canadian Geese mate for life; this one’s life partner was dead.
The last words heard during Palm/Passion Sunday service were still on my mind. I heard read the story of Jesus’ death. Pilate granted the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea who took Jesus’ body off the cross, wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb, then he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
Jesus was crucified and died at the young age of 33.
By many of the world’s standards I’ve lived a good long life, still cheating death of its personal sting. But Good Friday insists I look death in its face. Good Friday asks me to die with Jesus. There is little appeal in the invitation. The death of a Canadian Wild Goose brought a tear to my eyes, and I’m deeply saddened when death visits dear friends as it has this past year. I’m not ready to die.
The pain of death on a cross is difficult to imagine; for the most part I avoid thinking of nails driven into hands and feet, body hanging on a wooden cross until suffocation graciously ends the misery. The ancient Roman death penalty was cruel beyond measure. Fortunate were those whose death came quickly.
Physical cruelty was only one of the many agonies suffered by Jesus. He was also abandoned. “All of them deserted him and fled,” writes Mark (14:50). At the time when Jesus was most in need of friendship, he was alone. Perhaps the twelve were embarrassed and ashamed for casting their lot on a hapless leader who appeared to fail miserably. The question Jesus asked of God, “Why have you forsaken me?” must have been on his mind with no friends in sight. Any ability to trust, I imagine, left Jesus completely in the hours before dying.
Salvador Dali paints a crucified Jesus in heavy dark colors high above an abandoned beached fishing boat. Good Friday’s loneliness is cold, brutal and palpable in Dali’s painting.
Death completed what began as betrayal, was followed by denial, arrest, scourging and then nails driven into hands and feet.
Suffering cannot be sanitized from the story of Jesus much as we may wish; Jesus knew physical, spiritual and emotional suffering. The God we claim as ours faced torture. Following Jesus must include for us the agony, pain and death of Good Friday.
On Good Friday Martin Luther preached, “Christ’s sufferings should also be an example for your whole life . . . if a day of sorrow or sickness weighs you down, think how trifling that is compared with the thorns and nails of Christ . . . your Lord was mocked and disgraced . . .do hatred and envy war against you, or do you seek vengeance: remember how Christ with many tears and cries prayed for you and all his enemies . . .behold, one can find in Christ strength and comfort against all vice and bad habits. That is the right observance of Christ’s passion.”
“My Savior, be Thou near me, When death is at my door; Then let Thy presence cheer me, Forsake me nevermore! When soul and body languish, Oh, leave me not alone, But take away mine anguish, By virtue of Thine own!” (O, Sacred Head Now Wounded)
Death will one day call on each of us. The “right observance of Christ’s passion” is to bring our every sorrow, agony and pain to the cross and to Jesus who will take away the sting of death, and “will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8).
Easter morning is ongoing love and hope. Easter morning is the embrace of a God of compassion, a God unwilling to leave us alone, a God unwilling to recant on care.