I was well into my thirties the first time I cried over the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Throughout my life, I had listened to hundreds of sermons about Christ’s death. I had read about it extensively, had even understood that His sacrifice happened not only for the world in general, but for me personally.
Yet it wasn’t until noon on a Good Friday that I wept over it.
The breakdown happened at a very small service in the dimly lit sanctuary of our country church. Fewer than a dozen people were in the room. We sat in chairs circling a large wooden cross, which was laying on the floor. Nails and hammers were strewn about.
The pastor gave a short message, read from the Gospels, and then asked each of us to pick up a nail and pound it into the wooden cross. I moved down from the chair, obediently dropped to my knees, picked up a nail between my fingers, and touched the end, feeling its sharpness. I picked up a hammer, set my nail in place, and pounded it into the wood.
I think we were supposed to do just one nail per person, but I couldn’t stop. I picked up another and another and another after that. I couldn’t stop pounding in nails, and I couldn’t stop counting the cost of it all. Thoughts came flipbook style in my brain, reminding me of my past, my present, and my probable future of sin. I saw the sin of my youth, poor choices, misplaced desires, selfish intentions. I saw my apathy, my disinterest in the pain of others, my side-switching heart that had betrayed Christ time and again.
In a moment, I was the thief on the cross, crying out to Jesus with a shaking voice, “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” He looked upon me with love, and I burst into tears.
The service wasn’t over, but I dropped the hammer to the floor and walked out of the circle, out of the sanctuary, out of the church, wild with grief, as every set of eyes followed me out the door, maybe wondering, “What in the world just happened to Jennifer?”
Or maybe they knew I had just experienced a new depth of Christ’s love for me.
I walked across the highway that separates our white-steepled church from the cemetery. I leaned on the graveyard fence, staring out at rows of headstones. So much sorrow, so much death.
Yet, the sun shone so brightly overhead that I had to squint. Robins chirped in the trees, annoying me with their cheerful songs. I wanted to shout to them, “Stop, just stop! Don’t you realize that Jesus suffered an unthinkable death?”
I didn’t say that. But I did ask myself this: Where is the “good” in Good Friday, God? Why so much pain? Why couldn’t there be another way?”
The tears and the questions birthed something in me. In that moment, my soul was being awakened to my great need for Jesus, not just once, but every single day.
I don’t like to gaze upon a cross and see a man hanging in pain while paying the debt I couldn’t pay. But I must.
All these years later, I wonder if we all need to weep at cemetery fences during Holy Week. I wonder if we all need to pound nails into wooden crosses and come to terms with the necessity of Christ’s death. I used to wear a t-shirt with the words, “I am the wretch the song refers to,” and maybe I need that reminder a little more often than I think I do.
These days, we all hear a lot of inspiring messages about finding our purpose, recapturing our peace, reclaiming our joy, or making time for rest and self-care. On and on it goes. And I believe all of those messages are vital.
But what about our sin? Why don’t we talk about sin, our very own sin, more than we do?
When we don’t see the gravity of our sin, we don’t really see our need for Jesus. Until my own Good Friday moment, I had missed my own wretchedness. And candidly, I still do. I get caught up in living my comfortable life, giving God a daily list of demands and hoping He’ll come through for me.
I wonder, today, if we need a little bit more Good Friday in all our days. Not that we ought to crucify ourselves — or each other — over and over again. Jesus died once and for all, and yes, He overcame the grave, crushing the enemy forevermore.
But when we gaze upon the cross, it sweetens the victory found in an empty tomb. It insulates us from watering down the Good News into some sort of prosperity gospel that tells believers that a life in Christ leads to comfort and success. God didn’t promise easy lives. He calls us to the pain of sacrifice that demands something of us. He calls us to take up crosses and follow Him.
On Sunday, we will celebrate Easter. But before we do, let’s look upon the Friday hill from which a red-stained sacrifice flows fresh.
Let’s see it for what it is — a full payment for a debt we owed but simply couldn’t pay. He loves us that much.
And that’s what puts the “good” in Good Friday.
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