Since I was a young adult, the day always has a particular effect on me.
As a Christian, or at least for me as a Christian, I think a lot about what Jesus went through on this day, during what is more formally called The Passion. I reflect on his final journey as a person on this planet, as he struggled to reach the place where he would die: Golgotha.
I think about Golgotha not only as a destination, a small hill, scholars say, outside the old city walls of Jerusalem, where the Romans exacted capital punishment by crucifixion. Rather I think about it in the context of what I imagine Jesus was thinking on his way to his death.
Was it a walk filled with dread? After all, Jesus was fully human, even as he was also divine.
You might recall that he was reported to have experienced such anguish on the night of his arrest that he sweat blood while praying in Gethsemane. After being taken into custody, he was interrogated for hours, brutalized in numerous ways, and was finally flogged by Roman soldiers in the palace garrison. He was clear on his fate, shouted by the crowd in front of Pilate. “Crucify him!”
But maybe by the time he was carrying the wooden cross down the dirt road to Golgotha — bleeding, beaten, exhausted — maybe he had a sense of acceptance as he gazed up the hill. Did waves of panic and despair still flow through him, or had fear finally drained away? I try to imagine the unimaginable on this day. It’s part of my faith, after all. He died for me, as they say.
Did he have a sense of despair and abandonment? Surely this makes the most sense.
As the soldiers stripped him naked, the Roman centurion looking on, Jesus must have felt completely alone, defeated, doomed. Even though he had already been beaten badly over many hours, tortured really, the pain must have reached a new crescendo as they nailed his hands and feet to the cross on the ground, before hoisting it up on that hill.
After all these trials, did he still somehow, inexplicably, have faith?
Is it possible that even in that darkest moment, even as he hung there dying, his body broken and life seeping out, that deep within, the faith Jesus had sustained him as the final hours of his life ticked away?
I obviously don’t know. I know what I try to believe, but I don’t know. I’ve pondered it since before the sun was up today, prayed on it over and over again these many years since I started thinking about this circumstance, but I don’t know.
Sometimes I’m more certain, sometimes I feel skeptical, a bit ashamed actually that I’m not sure. Then again, what is faith without doubt?
What I am certain about is what Jesus’ story and this particular day mean for me, what it represents.
For me what happened on Golgotha comes down to love. God’s love for humanity, for me, and how that love was expressed through Jesus of Nazareth. His message to the very end, and beyond, is just that. It’s instructive really. Love God. Love each other. Even love your enemies.
The message is a good one. The lesson is also. Perhaps that’s why, as I heard a homilist say once, they call this Friday, “Good”.