Friday, March 29, 2013

That terrible, horrible good Friday

Many years ago my girlfriends and I started a tradition of getting together for a potluck brunch on Good Friday. We changed things up over the years: one year we did a book exchange, another year we invited all of our moms. But the constant was that after chatting over breakfast casseroles and coffee we sat in a circle, passed around our bibles, and read the story of the Passion.

I remember the first year that we did this. It was Tracy Jo's turn to read and when she got to John 18:22, "When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. 'Is this the way you answer the high priest?' he demanded" she had to stop several times because she started sobbing.
And that's exactly why we did it. Because sitting around in our comfortable living room in our cute shoes with good friends made it easy to forget that they slapped him in the face.

Among other things they did to him.

Using our voices, stating out loud, in detail what they did to Jesus - what I did to Jesus - makes it more real.

Eventually most of my Good Friday girlfriends got married and had babies who greatly interfered with our social lives and the tradition died away. We hadn't met in a good five years when I moved from Houston.

I've missed it terribly.

This past Sunday in church our services was scripture reading, song, scripture reading song.  A friend had the hard part about what they did to Jesus. And when she too burst into tears, I instantly remembered Tracy Jo and thought, I've got to revive the Good Friday brunch.

Except Good Friday is a school holiday so Maundy Thursday worked better. A few emails and some beautifully likewise spontaneous friends later, I had bacon cheese grits, banana chocolate chip flaxseed muffins, Ethiopian coffee, three toddlers and six new Austin friends in my living room.

When we read there were definitely tears, especially from the pregnant guest. And I admit that I deliberately read first because I knew I would not be able to get through the last part intact. I still choked over "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

But that's okay. It's a story worth crying over.

In our brunch tradition one of us would be chosen give a little lesson. I've been a bit distracted lately and didn't prepare anything, but after we read, I chose to share what I do know about the day we ironically call Good Friday.

So if you'd like, please read John 18-19 - aloud, if you're able, because using our voices makes it more real - then grab a cup of coffee, and pretend you're in my living room.

I'm warning you, one of my favorite hobbies is shattering false biblical perceptions. (I can completely and gleefully annihilate your porcelain Nativity scene.)

Drink up. You may need it.

Most of our images of Good Friday do not come from the bible but from Western European art, not from Scripture.

The Jesus at the top of this post painted by Diego Valazquez in 1623. It currently hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. I have seen it. It is absolutely beautiful. It is also rather laughable in its historical inaccuracy.

Not only do we envision a medieval Spanish or French Jesus, but we also envision a very sanitized, G rated Christ: Jesus in a white diaper, one little trickle of blood trickling down his beautiful face as he endures the sins of the world with a peaceful, resigned sigh.

This sanitized image of the crucifixion is not only false, it is dangerous. As a child, I silently wondered what the big deal was about Jesus dying for me. He knew he was going to rise again, right? The images I saw in my children's bible reinforced my understanding that it just wasn't that big a deal. Therefore, my sin wasn't that big a deal. Therefore, his grace wasn't that big a deal. Right?


The crucifixion was bad. Really bad. Ex-cruciatingly bad. The physical suffering that the Lord underwent for my sin is beyond my imagination, not to mention the psychological and spiritual suffering of being separated from his Father and scorned by his friends.

These are some things I've learned over the years about the crucifixion that changed the way I used to view that terrible, horrible, Good Friday.

  1. Jesus was probably pushing 40 when He died.

    Both Matthew and Luke, who was a stickler for details, tells us that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, and Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem for the census.
    There was a major census in 6 BC which may have been the one they went down for. Scholars are typically in agreement that Herod died in 4 BC, so Jesus had to be born before then. Also, Matthew tells us that Herod commanded the slaughter of all baby boys ages 2 and under, and assuming he did this shortly before his death, it would make sense that he thought Jesus had been born during that 6 BC census. At the earliest, Jesus was born in 4 BC.

    It is widely accepted that Jesus died in 33 AD. Luke 3 says that Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30, during the 15th year of Tiberius Ceasar's reign, which is documented as AD 26-27.  So by 33 AD, Jesus would be 37 at the youngest. If we believe the 6 BC date, he was 39 when he died.

    So why do we think he was 33? Because he died in 33 and we think he was born in the year zero. Problem is, there was no year zero. Let it go.

  2. Jesus had short hair and wasn't that cute.

    There is nothing in the bible to suggest that Jesus had long hair, and there is plenty to suggest that he - and all Jews except Nazerites - had short hair. (For a detailed rationale on this, go here.

    Isaiah 52 makes it clear that "
    He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him."

    other words, he looked nothing like this:

  3. Diogo Morgado as rock star Jesus in The History Channel's "The Bible"  

3. His beard was ripped from his face.
I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Isaiah 50:6

Jewish men wore beards, as prescribed in Leviticus. It was, and still is in many Middle Eastern cultures (and in my own husband's mind) a symbol of masculinity, wisdom and glory. To shave or pluck the beard in Scripture was always a sign of mourning and great disgrace. The guards would have ripped his beard out of his already beaten face purely to shame him.  

4. He was beaten beyond recognition - literally.

As he appeared before the Sanhedrin, they slapped him, beat him with their fists, and spat on him. He was blindfolded him so that he couldn't see when the next blow was coming. Then the Roman guards had their turn beating him.

Next he was stripped of his clothing and scourged using a whip called a flagrum. A flagrum consisted of leather strips to which pieces of metal, bone, and hooks were attached, with the intent to dig in and rip away his skin and muscle. Jesus's back was mutilated. The Roman guard would have called off the beating only when it appeared that Jesus was near death.

They were not done. The crown of thorns was dug into his head and he was beaten about the head some more by a wooden staff. By the time Jesus was sent to be crucified, he had been rendered to such a bloody pulp that "He didn’t even look human—a ruined face, disfigured past recognition." Isaiah 52:4

5. Jesus carried a cross-beam, not a cross.

Wood was far too scarce in Jerusalem for every person crucified to get their own personal cross. A wooden stake (Greek "stauros") would be left in the ground and recycled for subsequent crucifixions.  The condemned person was made to carry the crossbeam, or patibulum. This alone could have weighed 100 pounds and as I see it would be much more unwieldy to grab on to than a cross.

(That was a toughie, I know. Still with me?)

6. Jesus's feet were possibly nailed on each side of the staurus

In 1968 workers in Jerusalem uncovered the remains of a first century man who had been crucified, the first and only discovery of its kind. The man, Jehohanan, still had one nail in his ankle bone. The length of the nail and location in his foot implied that he was probably nailed to the cross with the a foot on each side and the beam in the middle, not with his feet crossed as is almost always depicted in crucifix art.

7. Jesus was nude on the cross.

This is the part of the crucifixion story that completely ruined me when I first discovered it. Our Lord was naked on the cross.

Every Jew wore five articles of clothing: shoes, turban, garter, outer robe, and tunic. John tells us in 19:23-24 that four soldiers divied up for the first four items, but they cast lots for the tunic, because it was seamless (which is a sign that Jesus is our great high priest.)

That's all he would have been wearing. Five items. Every gospel mentions them gambling for his clothes, but for years I read that and it didn't sink in that if they had taken all of his clothes, he didn't have on any clothes.

It wasn't enough that he was unjustly accused, convicted in the middle of the night in a kangaroo court, betrayed by his friends, beaten, whipped raw, and had nails driven through his hands and feet. But he was nude as well, in front of his enemies, his friends, and his mother.

I cannot fully imagine myself being beaten like he was. But my mind can go to the idea of being on display, naked, my legs separated by a cross, for everyone I knew, including my father, to see. This I can imagine. This horrifying image my brain can conceive of. Honestly, the humiliation and shame of this image upsets me even more than death.

This, he did for my sin. This, he did for his grace. This, he did for his glory.

This, I take for granted every day.


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