And so we have arrived at Good Friday, although it likely didn't look so "good" at the time. On this day, the eyes of the faithful look to the Cross, but how many of us are willing to go there?
This is overly-dramaticized in the moives. (And I have not seen Son of God yet, so I'm not including that one.) But for those I have seen, it seems that the crowd dwindles considerably from the courtyard to the Cross. The further Jesus travels along the road to Golgotha, the fewer people who are going with Him. Like once this Christ was condemned to die, people lost interest. I'm not sure how accurate this is.
We know there were many soldiers there, Romans responsible for the crucifixion of not just one man, but three. We know Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John were there; we can assume Peter probably wasn't. As much as the Gospels talk about Peter, someone would have told us about Peter's encounter at the Cross had there been one. And we can safely assume there was a smattering of Pharisees who would not just trust this all to go according to plan; they'd want to see it through for themselves. Oh, and two men thick as thieves - one on His right, one on His left.
The Cross was a lot busier a place than I think most of us often take it to be. But most of us would never know that because we do not draw near to this moment.
It's weird, right? We are a people who cling to the empty Cross, who hold onto it as our symbol. But on a day like today, in a moment like this moment, we back away. Thinking, of all things, that a time when God's Son is dying on the Cross is God's time. It's His chance to be doing something big. It's His moment, and we wouldn't want to intrude on that. We shy away, hoping for Jesus to die in peace, and then running to the Cross as soon as His lifeless body is taken away.
We're missing out.
If the story of Good Friday tells us anything, it is that there is space at the Cross for anyone, for everyone. It's that there is something more happening on Golgotha than the death of the Christ. It's that this is not just God's defining moment; it can be ours, too.
Think about the thief, a man actually guilty of his crimes. He's hanging next to the crucified Savior and he doesn't back down. It doesn't cross his mind that this is supposed to be God's moment; he knows it might be his, too. He defends the Messiah against the jeers of the other thief, the taunts of the Hill, and Jesus turns to Him and promises him paradise. The moment of the Cross is expanding. Now, it is two: Jesus and the thief.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John are keeping vigil as events unfold. Jesus has one eye on the Host of Heaven and the other on the man and woman who have hosted Him on earth, and He sees the emptiness already settling into their hearts. He promises them to each other - to His mother, a man to consider a son; to His disciple, a woman to consider a mother. Mary moves in with John and lives out her days in his house. The Cross expands further. Now, it is four: Jesus, the thief, a mother, and a friend.
One of the Romans assigned to the Hill comes to a critical moment in the crucifixion. He's not given much thought to anything. Maybe he's heard the stories of Jesus, but as a Roman, it wasn't really his lore. It wasn't as much of the water cooler talk as it was for the Jews, so it's hard to know what he knew and when. But here he is in the presence of yet another dying man, and this one seems different. In one powerful moment, it's clear: Truly, this was the Son of God. He's a believer, at precisely the moment when it seems to be too late. The moment of the Cross is huge. Now, it is five: Jesus, the thief, a mother, a friend, and an unbeliever.
The weird truth, of course, is that without Jesus on the Cross, none of these moments would have been possible. If these men and women had waited for "God's moment" to end, they would have missed theirs. If they had come to the Cross as simply a place of haunted hallowedness, there would be no paradise for the thief, no mother for the friend, no son for the mother, no faith for the soldier. Two thousand years later, we'd have nothing to tell us this was more than God's moment.
But it is more. It is also our moment. The Cross is a place where people come to be changed. Where they stand on the Hill and look into His eyes and see what it means to be God in the flesh, a God we can relate to and depend on and come to, no matter what. A God who invites us into His moments because that's precisely why He's created them - to share.
Many of us spend our Christian lives hopping from one place that God has been to another, always seeming to miss Him, always seemingly on purpose. We run to the Cross, long after His body's been taken down and stand in solemn silence at what God has done for us. We run to the empty tomb, abandoned in the hillside, and stand in amazed wonder at His awesome power. We go here and there, embracing God's moments but missing ours.
Personally, that's not the kind of faith I want. I don't want a museum faith. I don't want a faith of artifacts and place markers and historic sites. I want the kind of faith that looks into the eyes of God, wherever He happens to be, and walks into His moments knowing that I'm welcome there. Throughout all of His recorded ministry, that's the word of Jesus - that you are welcome in His moments. He never says, "Hey, I'm doing something holy here. Gimme a minute." He always says, "Welcome." And lives are changed.
I don't know where you are this Good Friday. I don't know what your plans are or what you're thinking about on this day when we remember how tenderly God was thinking about us. I don't know if you're like so many of us, like I know I have been on many a year, and you're just waiting on Jesus to die, waiting to figure out what you're going to do next. But this year, I'm not waiting.
If you need me this Good Friday, you'll find me at the Cross. I need to be where Jesus is. And I hope you'll join me because this holy moment is growing. It's Jesus, the thief, a mother, a friend, an unbeliever, and...whatever I happen to be on any given day. Is it going to be you, too?