Good Friday

Good Friday

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

 – Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

In her poem “Good Friday” Christina Rosetti imagines herself witnessing the crucifixion. Troubled by her hard-heartedness she asks God, and no doubt herself, ‘Am I a stone and not a sheep? Am I less than human, less even than the inanimate sun and moon?’ In my own contemplation of the cross I have often asked myself (and sometimes God) a similar question: Why don’t I feel worse about this than I do? What is wrong with me? Have I become desensitized by sixty-some years of hearing the gruesome details of Good Friday? Has my heart has been hardened by the violence, cruelty and suffering that seem to permeate the very atmosphere we breathe? Perhaps my own sin history does not seem quite as hefty as that of those I consider truly evil, making it easier for me to imagine myself a passive bystander at Calvary rather than an executioner. And finally, maybe I am a fraud. Maybe I do not really love Jesus to the degree I claim. After all, if I were recalling the torture of a loved one, a stranger, or even a pet, I would likely find myself “weeping bitterly” and overtaken by “exceeding grief.”  It seems Rosetti was mistaken when she claimed, “I, only I.”

To some degree these may be valid considerations for my seeming callousness. However, I would like us to consider one more: Though in and of itself time does nothing to diminish the horrors of the crucifixion, the subsequent centuries have distanced us to the degree that there is not a “Jesus Film” out there that can effectively span the years. Imaginative prayer may ‘transport us’ to the scene and awaken dormant feelings, but it is soon back to business as usual.  Though it was essential to the fulfillment of the scriptures and our redemption, perhaps Christ’s suffering alone does not hold the undiminished potency capable of rending our hearts.  Rather, when we consider that Jesus willingly “laid down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), that he “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), that it was “for the joy” that was set before him that he endured the shame and torture of the cross (Heb. 12:2), is it not the timeless experience of his love and grace that spans the centuries and is presently powerful enough to cause our pain and compassion to rise to the surface?  This is Love that stamps no expiration date on our hearts. This is Love the time-traveler, who was, and is, and is to come.  This is patient, invitational Love who has longed since the days of Eden to adopt all his estranged children.  This is Love whose momentum was behind the hammer that drove the nails at Calvary and is still behind the suffering that drives broken hearts to the cross. This is Augustine’s timeless “Beauty so ancient and so new.”

The prayer of Christina Rosetti’s “Good Friday” is met by Love’s invitation in this stanza from her poem “Despised and Rejected.”

But all night long that voice spake urgently:
‘Open to Me.’
Still harping in mine ears:
‘Rise, let Me in.’
Pleading with tears:
‘Open to Me that I may come to thee.’
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
‘My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.’

 

– Pat Conneen