For some, Good Friday shouts the glorious new life of spring. The red buds, dogwoods, and cherry trees proclaim that the icy death of winter does not get the final word and all creation insists on life. The heart aches with beauty and wonder. And for others, Good Friday echoes the dreariness of the soul. A grandchild who died tragically. A marriage on the brink of disaster. A dead-end job. A refugee stuck hopelessly in a camp. Sometimes Good Friday feels like every other day of the year, too heavy.
What did it feel like for Jesus? Did he give up, give in, shake his fist, lament having loved? Luke tells us that on the way to the cross, Jesus converses with the crowds who follow. Some are weeping. Simon hoists the wooden cross on his back. But the way Luke tells it, Jesus still teaches. One of the lines Jesus speaks is:
“For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry.”
New Testament Scholar David May, who will co-lead our trip to Israel this spring, says that Jesus is giving a little riddle about green wood and dry wood. Green wood is used for the crucifixion. But later, the wood will dry and there will be even more widespread violence. Jesus is saying that if they are crucifying him now on the green wood, you just wait until the nationalism and violence really take hold and a time of utter destruction breaks out. And this happened, just as he imagined it might in AD 70. Only a generation after Jesus, the temple falls to the Roman Empire. Their violent ways have failed them.
Jesus had modeled for them a way of peace. Welcoming the stranger, dining with sinners, turning the other cheek, healing the outcasts, empowering the poor, reconciling families. But society rejected this way of peace and non violence. Jesus was teaching them, on the way to the cross, that it matters which way they choose. There is still time. There is still hope. Will they practice peace or will they arm themselves for battle.
On this Good Friday, how will we answer the riddle?
Grace and peace,