In a guest essay for the New York Times, Dr. Sunita Puri writes that when it comes to death “We want neatness and containment, not the spill of grief.” She goes on to write: “But death is never neat. A good death should be defined by how well and honestly we care for the dying, not by their performance on our behalf.” She writes about how we can unfairly expect loved ones on the verge of passing to accept their impending death so that we can feel better about losing them. She writes: “By sacrificing neatness, we can have a better understanding of death.”
Even when it comes to the death of our Lord and Savior we want his death to be neat and contained. Our tendency is to skip over or spend little to no time in Christ’s suffering and death on the cross so we can hurry up to the resurrection. By doing so we are able to focus on the parts of the Easter story that are joyful and easy to stomach, not the parts that we deem too graphic, violent, or heartbreaking.
But Jesus himself did not avoid death and scripture does not shy away from the terrible things humanity is capable of. The crowd in this passage is thirsty for blood. Specifically the blood of Jesus. Their anger and demand for what they see as “justice” frightens even Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor, who himself has the backing of the Roman Empire.
There are tender moments in the midst of the suffering. Jesus tells John and Mary that they are family. She is his mother, he is her son, even though they are not biologically related. But through Jesus they have become family and even seconds before his death, Jesus is taking care of his loved ones by making sure they know to take care of one another. It’s that scene that’s just as heart wrenching as the torture Jesus endured. We see how his family grieves for him and he for them. What happens to those who are left behind?
When my Mom passed away, a dear friend said a profound thing to me. She said: “You now have to adjust to a world without your mom. A world you’ve never known.” I appreciated her recognizing my grief and what I needed to process in the days ahead. What I still process today.
But Good Friday is good because we don’t have to process a world without Jesus. He is with us. His suffering and death allows for us a way back to God when we let the darkness get the best of us. His resurrection conquered death. His resurrection foreshadows our own resurrection and a time when death, pain and grief will be no more. That will come to fruition when Jesus returns. Until then pain, grieving, and death are inevitable. But by his suffering, we can trust that Jesus is with us even in the midst of those dark times.
Furthermore, Jesus brings life in the midst of death. Light in darkness. Comfort in the midst of pain and hope in the midst of loss. Only his death, and his death alone, could accomplish this.
Many of you know that my dad and I were estranged. But to be honest I always hoped for a moment of reconciliation. I imagined it to be on his death bed where I would rush in and hold his hand and we would reconcile right before his passing. As with many things we hope for in life that didn’t happen. But that doesn’t mean hope doesn’t exist.
That image of reconciliation came back to me as I held a small golden metal box that contained his ashes. It was in that moment I was overcome with grief and slumped to the floor weeping. While I never got my moment of tender reconciliation, Jesus gave me hope in other ways. My Uncle Sammy, who looks and sounds just like my dad, leaned over to me during my dad’s service and said: “I just want you to know that your dad loved you, your sister, and your mom. He was just a complicated person.”
While I lost my dad I gained back my family. I hadn’t seen my uncles, aunts, and cousins on that side of the family for years and I was worried they would be mad at me and my sister for not doing more for my dad. But what came to light is that we all did what we could do for him in our own ways because at the end of the day we loved dad even with all of his imperfections and hurtful choices.
It was only in talking about our shared loss and grief that God restored hope for all of us. It was in being open and real about all of our complicated relationships with dad that we found comfort. It was prayers that I didn’t even know I had that were answered that day. Jesus showed up in ways that I didn’t even realize I needed. Does this mean I won’t continue to grieve my dad? No. Does this mean I won’t miss or grieve the time I wish I could’ve had with him? No. But I also know that Jesus will continue to be present and will continue to redeem my grief and my loss.
All because Jesus, even though he did not want to and even though he was deeply afraid, showed up at the cross and chose death. He chose death because he chose us. His death brings life. His death brings reconciliation. In the here and now. And that is why today is a good day.