It’s Good Friday, the day Christians remember the death of Jesus. To remember more vividly, I prayed the stations of the cross at a Catholic church. The prayers led us in imagining ourselves as bystanders of Jesus as he carried his cross to the place of his execution, then envisioning Christ’s presence in our daily lives and relationships. At the end of the prayers, we made our way to the cross, kneeling before Christ to pray our silent prayers.
One of the fundamental practices of the Christian life is reflecting on the unseen to hone our spiritual eyesight in order to see the “upper story,” as Randy Frazee calls the spiritual dimension of life. We’re often only tuned into the “lower story,” or human dimension, of our life. Visioning prayer is one of the ways I find most helpful to do remember there is a spiritual dimension to everything. Without this awareness I often incur spiritual losses for trivial temporal gains. That’s not how I want to live.
Meanwhile, at the Anglican church, they slowly darkened all of the lights and extinguished all of the candles, then kept the sanctuary open for private prayers all night. This allows people to “watch with Christ one hour,” as he asked his closest friends to do that night in the garden of Gethsemane. It’s poignant to read how fervently Jesus needed to pray for the strength to face his suffering and death. The physical agony must have repelled his human self, but the spiritual agony Jesus faced by assuming the depths of human depravity was probably much more repugnant. Whereas we cannot imagine freedom from pride, pleasure, leisure, prestige, lies, greed, anger and violence, this would be the first time Jesus experienced any of these faults. If you read the creation story, these are what caused the separation — more like the impassible chasm — between God and humans. Before sin, God used to walk and talk with humans, face to face. Whether that’s literal or metaphorical is beside the point that God is holy, we are not, and we need to be purified to approach Almighty God. These faults were laid on Jesus so he could atone for them on the cross, exchanging our sinfulness for his holiness.
Jesus’ most anguished cry on the cross was, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It wasn’t because Jesus was being killed that Christ felt forsaken by God. In fact, that cannot be why, for as hard as that was, God and Jesus agreed “from the foundation of the world” that if people should break fellowship with God through sin, they would provide the remedy of salvation. No, God was not forsaking Jesus in his death, He was accomplishing salvation together with Jesus through it. So why did God forsake Jesus? For the same reason God forsakes us — because a holy God cannot partake of the sins that Jesus now bore. Jesus had never felt the separation from God, just as we have never felt its absence. And now Jesus felt the weight of all sins, to full measure, all at once. It must have been horrible! Kind of like our daily existence — constantly wanting to please our heavenly Father, but never being able to. And on our own, we never will. We are in desperate need of that remedy Jesus was effecting — the end of our lonely, existential, separation from God.