In the following meditations, we will go through what our church did for Good Friday this year. In past years, we have celebrated Good Friday with the lit candles being progressively extinguished, symbolizing the fading of Christ’ life on the cross, down to when he breathed his last, “into your hands I commend me spirit.”
This year I have been reading and rereading the Gospel of John. For John the cross is not the darkness of the world extinguishing Jesus.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5
This was the moment when the darkness could not overwhelm the light.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…” – John 17:1
This was the moment the Messiah was enthroned as king in all his glory, the glory of perfect love.
So, this year we are going to light candles to show that it was on this night that darkness did not win: Jesus shown in the darkness.
There is more than one way to understand what Jesus did on the cross. In the Bible the cross is understood as Jesus taking the punishment of sin; Jesus paying a ransom to the dark powers, buying us back; Jesus offering himself as a priestly sacrifice; as well as, Jesus conquering the powers of death.
Often when we do that, we see the cross as something God does for us that we cannot live out.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. – Mark 8:34
Jesus did something for us at the cross that was unique, universal, unrepeatable, an outpouring of his divinity – yes. But he did something as a human, showing us something we must take up. He showed us a way of obedience. He showed us the way of reconciliation and forgiveness with our enemies. He showed us in a very real way what happens when we live fully committed to his will. We take up our cross.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matt. 5: 10, 14-16
Sometimes we think that the cross was something Jesus did so that we could never experience something like that. Phew! But that is not what Jesus calls us to.
Those who are called to the light will be despised by those who cannot let go of their darkness.
Those who speak truth will be resented by those who believe their own lies.
Those who seek love will be mocked by those that just want to hate.
Those who seek peace will be attacked by those who love violence.
Those who follow Jesus will be persecuted by those who follow the ways of the world.
It will happen, and when it does, the Scriptures remind us in those moments of confusion – why does the world hate a message of love and peace? – that if we have Christ in our hearts, the world will treat us like they did Jesus.
And the opposite is true: If the world treats us like they did Jesus, those who are persecuted can be assured that Christ is dwelling in their hearts. We are not forgotten by God, we are actually called blessed.
As we trust the cross, we will live out the cross. As we live it out, we will draw near to Christ and Christ to us in profound, even mystical ways. This is what the martyrs have to teach us.
We all do that in our own way, as we are called by God, but some people in our history were called to do so in the most similar manner: they were tested with either denying Jesus or dying for him, and they chose death. They chose their crosses in the face of torture and execution.
Tonight we are going to hear some of those stories. We are going to hear the story of the cross, retraced by the blood of the martyrs.
Let’s open with prayer.
Father, we thank you for the work of the cross that forgave our sins. We come here tonight to remember the sacrifice of your son Jesus Christ. May we be inspired by the stories of your martyrs. May we be reminded in a new way of the cost of salvation you paid to liberate us. If we offer our very lives, our everything to you, we gain infinitely more: the opportunity to follow you, to know the sacrifice of the cross with our bodies, to draw close to you in the way you drew close to us. Guide our meditations and praises to you now, we pray. Amen.