“And He began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things, to be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and scribes, and to be killed; and after three days to rise again.” Mark 8:31
I didn’t grow up with Good Friday. Literally. Part of the backwash in some segments of the Reformation was avoiding the Christian Year, and in my church we didn’t observe Holy Week or even Good Friday. Or Ash Wednesday or Advent or Epiphany, etc. And I didn’t know what a Maundy was. The cross was preached well and sometimes graphically, but we didn’t observe Good Friday.
During seminary, in my worship studies, I learned about the rhythm of Holy Week and came to deeply appreciate the need for observing certain days. Looking back on my early Christian years I think we were in a rush to celebrate Easter and we didn’t pause to truly consider the last week before the crucifixion. We knew the facts, but celebration was paramount.
The focus in the gospels is precisely the opposite. The verse for this week’s Gracewaves is the first prediction Jesus made of His death and resurrection, and it comes about midway in the Gospel. Mark records three such predictions, each one increasingly graphic (see Mark 9:31 and 10:33-34). Jesus intensely taught the disciples about His death knowing they would be reluctant to hear it. All disciples tend to rush past the uncomfortable details of Jesus’ death.
Not so in the gospels. All four pause for the last week of His life. Narrative time slows down. Details emerge. They focused on His death, and frankly recorded only a few of His post-resurrection appearances. In the very arrangement of the Gospels we see God’s intent for us to pause, watch, and reflect. Yet we are reluctant.
Take a moment to google Caravaggio’s The Deposition, and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not qualified in the least to appraise his artistic ability which is immense, but I do feel qualified to evaluate his theology in the painting. It is lacking, but familiar. The scene depicts several disciples taking Jesus’ body from the cross. Typical of his style, Caravaggio uses light and shadow to highlight the anguish of the disciples and the lifeless body of Jesus.
Now look carefully at Jesus’ body. What do you notice? No blood. No wounds on the feet or head. Perhaps a slight mark on His right hand. No wound on His side. The body is well-muscled, rather athletic. He looks as if He fell gently asleep. And that’s the way we like to think about His death, and that’s why we don’t like to pause during Holy Week.
But we must. We really must. We have to pause and think about the fact that He died a horribly cruel and brutal death. In the words of the prophet, we would not want to look upon Him. We have to slow down, like the gospels, and move carefully through the days of Holy Week. We need to think about the weighty meaning of a little three-letter Greek word that is usually translated as “it was necessary.” It was necessary for Jesus to die for my sins. Somehow, in ways no atonement theory can fully describe, Jesus had to die so that I might have eternal life.
When I pause during this week, I am sure that I will again be impressed with this thought: “I’m so sorry You had to die, but I am so thankful You did.” I believe Jesus’ response would be that He was glad to give His life for me.
One of my favorite Holy Week hymns is When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. To survey something takes time. We’re not to glance at the cross, and we’re certainly not to rush by it.
I urge you to take time this week. Pause. Survey. Give to Him your soul, your life, your all. That way you will be ready for Easter.
Dr. Terry Ellis
April 17, 2011