When Good Friday doesn’t seem so good

For most of my life, Good Friday primarily served as a heads-up for a nice candy-gorge. I glossed over what it really represented, anticipating instead the large egg-hunts with my cousins around my grandparents’ farm on Easter Sunday.

It was only a few years ago that I gained a painful understanding of the true significance of Good Friday. That happened when one of my closest friends from middle school, Erica, died suddenly in a car accident. All throughout late elementary and middle school, Erica and I had been joined at the hip. We attended summer camps together, were pairs for science-class projects, and even had our 15 minutes of fame at a statewide jump rope competition (yes, you read correctly: jump rope).

We communicated less as we went through college and pursued separate ways after graduating, but we never lost our mutual respect and affection. I had planned to contact her after the Easter holiday to reconnect before she moved overseas for missions work.

But in the late night hours of Good Friday, I learned that Erica had died in a car accident while driving home that day. It was inconceivable. In the wake of her death, I was confronted with the reality of how wrong and intrusive death could feel.

Yes, death is wrong. We weren’t designed to experience the sudden separation of death. But because of the Fall of man, death became part and parcel of life. Suddenly, I had a glimpse of the confusion, anger, and sadness that the disciples of Jesus experienced when He died.

But then, I also saw hope. The day I had previously ignored—Good Friday—commemorates two things. One, the torture and wrongful murder of the one who claimed to be the world’s Savior; two, the “good” result His death achieved: a way out of death for us! His resurrection three days later, which we commemorate on Easter Sunday, gives us hope for a lasting solution to death.

Thanks to what was accomplished that first Easter, I could rest in the fact of Erica experiencing paradise right now even as I grieved her unfathomable death and the depth of our earthly separation.

What has been of immense encouragement to me are the words that Jesus gave His disciples in John 16:33 before His crucifixion, which summarize the incomparably low moments of Good Friday and the unsurpassed high of Easter. Jesus told them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Today, we still experience effects of the fall. The emotions and pain that Jesus’ disciples felt still exist in this life. But even when we experience these extreme lows, we have the truth of Easter to hold on to. Jesus has already overcome the wrong by taking our place on the cross, and, accrediting His righteousness to us, declared, “it is finished” (John 19:30).

Knowing that Erica had fully accepted Jesus as her Savior, I look forward to seeing her again one day. And hey, for old time’s sake, maybe we’ll go ahead and earn another ribbon with our old jump rope routine!

Experiencing Lent for the First Time

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

This year marks the first time I’m actively participating in the season of Lent.

Apart from it being an annual liturgical season, I originally had little idea what Lent was about.  However, a few weeks before Lent rolled around, I found myself being asked by many fellow students at my small, Christian college what I was giving up for Lent. Initially surprised at the question, I would usually flip it back to the one who asked, to avoid having to respond to it myself.

I was intrigued to hear that many of my friends were giving up things like chocolate, sweets, or other unhealthy practices. It seemed to me that Lent was simply a second attempt at a failed New Year’s resolution; a time for Christians to pledge themselves to being healthier, exercising more, and giving up unhealthy habits.

With this initial skepticism, I almost didn’t go to the Ash Wednesday service being held in my school’s chapel that Wednesday morning.  Like a typical college student, I was also exhausted, and wondering if my morning chapel break would be better spent napping on the couches in the library.  However, curiosity got the better of me, so I went.

Lent, as it was explained during the service, is a time of self-denial that helps us remember the suffering of Jesus and prepare our hearts to commemorate His death on Good Friday, and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the forty day period prior to Good Friday.

Lent was starting to make sense to me; after all, giving up chocolate for 40 days certainly ranked as suffering in my book. As the service went on, however, I began to realize that Lent had a much deeper meaning than merely giving up a daily comfort. It is not so much about giving up something as it is about starting something new; it is about denying ourselves in order to become closer to Christ.

The time came for the receiving of the ashes at the end of the service.  During a traditional Ash Wednesday service, there is a point in the service where the participant has the opportunity to have their forehead marked with a cross of ash.  The ash symbolizes grief at our sin and grief at the suffering Jesus undertook to redeem us from the eternal consequences of our sin.  The practice of giving up something from our lives, and then standing up to receive the ashes, encapsulates the Lenten experience in a symbolic gesture of penance and remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection.

I still felt unsure if I should participate though; I had never been to an Ash Wednesday service before and I didn’t have something in mind to let go of yet. However, the risk of being the only one still seated prompted me to get up like the others to receive the ashes. When I reached the elder holding the basket of ashes, I bowed my head towards him and waited. “Because of your sins you will die, but because of Jesus Christ you will live,” the elder proclaimed over my bent head as he painted the symbol of the cross on my forehead.

Later that day, I sat down to reflect on my Ash Wednesday experience. It made me want to participate in the Lenten experience of suffering with Christ. I wanted to grow closer to God through denying myself of something harmful in my life, something that hindered my relationship with God. I was reminded of the verse in Hebrews 12:1, “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”

In the end, the decision was clear to me. Earlier that week, I had read through an article on Facebook about things to give up for Lent other than chocolate. Based on some of the ideas from that post, I decided to give up . . . worrying. I know that doesn’t sound like denying myself of something special or enjoyable. However, God has been working in my heart since the beginning of this year to surrender my worry to Him and trust in Him. I have come to realize that excessive worrying, while not exactly nice, is in reality a self-indulgent practice. God was calling me to give up feeling sorry for myself and taking a twisted attitude of pride in being more stressed-out than others. He was calling me to put those actions and attitudes aside, and to trust in Him.

Giving up worrying has been especially relevant in this Lenten season as changes in my family and school situation have led to a lot of uncertainty for the coming year. Now, more so than ever, I’m tempted to fill my days with worrying over the future and being stressed about what is to come. However, when I reflect on Jesus’ coming and resurrection, I am reminded that because He lives, I don’t have to worry. I am loved by a God who cares for me beyond what I can ever imagine and I know that I can trust Him with my future.

It’s Not a Freak of Nature

The solar eclipse that happened in mid-March was indeed a breathtaking spectacle. While millions witnessed the event around the world, a fortunate few in the Faroe Islands and Svalbard, far north of Europe, even got to see a total solar eclipse, with the moon completely blocking the sun.

As I don’t live anywhere close to those regions, I turned to the Internet for videos and photographs of this event—and was gobsmacked. As the moon crept past the sun and blocked it from view, blinding sunbeams streamed through the sky. Then, at 9.14 a.m., the bright morning sky suddenly turned dark, as if twilight had fallen, before complete darkness fell. It all seemed so surreal. What a “freak” of nature it was, I thought to myself. I just couldn’t grasp the science of it all.

The eclipse reminded me of a similar darkness that spanned the sky after Christ’s death on the cross. Matthew 27:45 describes what happened: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.” A full three hours! While some have speculated that this was due to a total eclipse, others have contended that it was not possible for a total eclipse to last so long, as the moon was in the wrong position at the time.

What I found more interesting, however, was the differing reactions both events evoked in people. On March 20, 2015, those watching the eclipse, which included stargazers and campers, were filled with anticipation and excitement as they prepared for the moment. In contrast, when the sky turned dark at Jesus’ crucifixion, people were filled with remorse, guilt, anger or fear. “They were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54). It made me wonder: How would I have responded if I were present at Jesus’ crucifixion?

Though we do not know if darkness had covered the entire world or just part of it, we do know with certainty that God was glorified through what had happened. The miraculous phenomenon demonstrated God’s power and showed the impact of the crucifixion on the whole world.

As we look back on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let’s take some time to reflect on Jesus’ death for us. He took our sins and shame away and freely forgave us, so that we could be reconciled to God. Without the light of Christ, the world would still remain in darkness.

Photo credit: oroyplata. / Foter / CC BY-NC

POEM: The Day My Savior Was Led Away

Hurry, hurry! My heart pounded.
I saw the crowd in the distance.
“Hail, King of the Jews!” they shouted.
I slowed, feet worn with sand and dirt.

What was that down my cheeks?
I could not hold back as I stood.
Why, why would He not speak?
My mind could not grasp as I looked.

“Here is your king!” He was presented.
“Take him away!” They demanded.
“Crucify him!” Those words repeated.
Such anger, I could not understand.

I followed behind, but never too far.
Why, why? I softly whispered.
Saw Him travel up to Golgotha,
To the cross, hammered and nailed.

There I stood, as I watched Him speak;
The words left His lips as I sank beneath.
My mind recalled what my heart had believed;
My heart cried as He said, “It is finished.”

Brought down, wrapped, and carried away;
At a tomb, He was laid and buried within.
I could not bear and left for the day;
Yet forever and ever would they always say:

The Lord has risen; He has risen indeed!

Photo credit: Kimber Photography / Foter / CC BY