Every time I pass Lakeshore Hospital I remember one of the worst days in my life. After an intervention for crystal meth addiction, we brought my then-partner there for an outpatient program—that he soon quit. Through the next months and years, it was impossible to imagine a bright future—anything good coming from such a tragedy.
Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” That seems to be how our ancestors in the faith came to understand this tragic day. How different John’s passion from Mark’s early version we heard last Sunday—in which Jesus’ dies forsaken and alone.
At the end of the first century the Christian community isn’t interpreting Jesus’ death as the end, as something to mourn. Rather, Jesus’ death is his glory. Lifted up on the tree of life, he draws all people to himself.
In John, it isn’t Jesus who is on trial, but Pilate. Christ’s kingship is not revealed in power, but suffering. Jesus doesn’t die alone—with him are Mary and the Beloved Disciple, the beginning of a new community. The water and blood flowing forth from Jesus’ side represent for us baptism and eucharist. The place of death becomes the means of new birth. Jesus’ final words filled with agony, but of triumph: “It is finished.”
Things aren’t what they seem. We learn this paradox in our own lives as well. What seems an ending, a setback, an unbearable loss becomes an invitation, a new beginning, an opportunity to open our hearts to resurrection and healing.
Nancy Eisland was born with a congenital bone defect. Even with the profound challenges she faced, she did not wish for a different life. In fact, she wrote a book called “The Disabled God.” She saw in her wounds the marks of a disabled, crucified God.
Life is understood backwards. Glorious paradox: the Byzantine liturgy sings of the precious cross shining with the brightness of Christ’s resurrection—inviting the faithful to kiss it with great rejoicing.
We lift high the cross. We reverence it with our bodies. It is the mystery of dying and rising that we celebrate throughout the Three Days. And so, we live our lives forward, in hope.
That is why the Good Friday liturgy ends with a hint of Easter. For cross and resurrection are interwoven in this mystery—not only for Christ, but for us. Rather than mourning, we celebrate the triumph of the cross. As we will soon sing, in the words of ancient text, “we glory in your cross, and praise your holy resurrection, for by your cross joy has come into the world.”