Jesus against the enemy (for Good Friday)
an excerpt from my book, Pandemic Prayers: Devotions and Prayers for a Crisis
Today we need to talk about death.
And there is lots of talk of death, in this time of plague and fear.
Some argue that efforts to prevent the spread of the virus are less than Christian. These people claim that Christians should not fear, or even—it seems—try to avoid death.
Some heap scorn on mitigation efforts, arguing that such efforts betray an undue love of this life, a materialism, a worldliness inappropriate to the Christian whose hope is in eternity.
Some argue that the old and the weak are fair game for the plague, that the deaths of these who were “on their last legs” are a small price to pay.
Good Friday reveals this for what it is: bad theology. It is bad theology because it ignores God hanging on the cross.
It fails to fix eyes on Jesus, carrying the cross to the hill where nails will pierce his flesh.
“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha” (Jn 19:16-17).
Anyone who would make light of grief or mortal danger forgets that Jesus took on the horror of death itself—and it was and is a horror.
Jesus endured the pain of death in order to destroy death.
God doesn’t destroy something if it doesn’t need destroying.
Death is an enemy.
(To be sure, death is a conquered enemy, but today, we don’t get to go there. Today, we look on Jesus, dying on the cross.)
“There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them” (Jn 19:18).
Good Friday reveals death for what it is.
Death is a horror.
Death is the consequence of sin.
Death had Jesus weeping at his friend’s grave, and death ravaged Jesus on the cross.
“‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30b)
How can we look on Jesus on the cross and suggest that any death is a small price to pay?
Does a small matter merit the blood and water flowing from Jesus’s side, opened for us?
“…one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out” (Jn 19:34).
Jesus died because he loves human life and wants us to love the life we have in him. Jesus died for this world, not so that we could discount this world.
The Christian faith isn’t about eternity against the world. It’s about the world being taken up into eternity.
The fourth century church father Athanasius wrote about the weight of Jesus’s death on the cross. He reminds us that "all" of us,
“were due to die,” but Jesus offered his “sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle [our] account with death and free [us] from the primal transgression” (On the Incarnation, 4).
Athanasius pictures Jesus on the cross, his arms “outstretched” to embrace us all. Here, he says, a
“marvelous and mighty paradox…occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.”
Not a monument to death’s smallness.
Not an encouragement to embrace death.
A monument to death’s defeat.
In Jesus, a mighty enemy has fallen. Let’s not call the enemy anything but what it is.
“They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (Jn 19:40-42).
The Lord of Life was placed in the tomb. His body was cold. His heart and breath were stilled.
Nothing could be more terrible.
Nothing could make it more clear that we are right to fight against death, and to grieve when it comes, even as we await Jesus’s full and final victory over it.
Today I am praying to keep my eyes on the cross as I live with death, to look and,
“See from His head, His hands, His feet Sorrow and love flow mingled down Did e’er such love and sorrow meet Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” Isaac Watts
Today we remember the death of our savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, who revealed death for what it is and in whom death was destroyed. Help us to look to Jesus and know your love for us and for every human life.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Today's blog post is an excerpt from my book Pandemic Prayers: Devotions and Prayers for a Crisis, a short book of devotional reflections and prayers, written in March and April of 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic.
Twenty-five short readings share the love of God and the hope we have in Jesus as we face fear, anxiety, isolation, and suffering. The devotions include material from Psalms of Lament, Julian of Norwich, and reflection on the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. These reflections are a companion for anyone walking through suffering and crisis.