I often wonder what it must have been like to stand among his followers at Golgotha—at the Place of the Skull—on the day that Jesus died. Carrying out from the City his own rough cross as he struggled and fell three times under its crushing weight, Jesus was crucified around 9 am in the morning and then hoisted high for all to see, with one dying man on his right and another dying on his left. As the soldiers gambled for his possessions, the crowds jeered and ridiculed him, saying, “Save yourself, King of the Jews!” But Jesus remained silent, responding with a prayer not for himself but for them: “Father, forgive them. Forgive them, Father…they don’t know what they’re doing.”
I wonder what it must have been like a few hours later, when most of the crowd would have moved on, no longer captivated by the spectacle of it all…by yet another demonstration of power by their Roman overlords to intimidate, fascinate, and ultimately to entertain them. “Aren’t you the Messiah? Come down from your cross!”
As the thunderclouds gathered on that long-off afternoon, the world beneath those three dying men would have already started moving on: bored, indifferent, or perhaps grown numb to all the ongoing suffering. And the Lord prayed, “Father, forgive them…they don’t know what they’re doing.” He was right about that then. And he is right about that now, as we look out upon our world today in all its dying moments.
Surely it seems like the whole world is getting darker as the nations gamble over God’s possessions: for land, sea and air, and the blessings of creation. Surely it seems like the whole world is getting darker as the horror of full-scale war sweeps like hail across the Ukraine; as ongoing gun violence afflicts our nation like an auto-immune disease; as divisions within all our governing assemblies grow from bad to worse. “My God, my God—why have you forsaken me? I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but I find no rest” (Ps. 22).
The whole world tonight is struggling to carry the weight of all these dying moments, as we mourn and we grieve for our loved ones; for lost hopes and for broken dreams, and for all that we hold most dear.
The Scriptures tell us that around 3 pm, the light failed altogether and the storm finally broke. In the Temple, the curtain covering the Holy of Holies was torn asunder for all to see. And the Lord of life, who carried all our dying moments upon his outstretched shoulders there upon that cross–the man Jesus cried out at last. He cried with a loud voice and for all who have ears to hear: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And with his last breath, he gave us the means to breathe on.
And now we do know, as evening falls on another Good Friday, that in spite of all the darkness the future may carry, it is God who carries us. God carries all our dying moments, with loving arms outstretched. Do you see? Your name is written on the palm of his spike-torn hand. For this is the Beloved, the Son of the Most High, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.