Nearly three billion people throughout the world will observe the most solemn day of the Christian calendar this Friday (March 30, 2018). Good Friday services across the globe will commemorate the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ nearly 2,000 years ago. Even the wizards of Wall Street will suspend trading at noon out of respect for the solemnity of the day. In a world obsessed with narcissism and greed, it’s comforting to know there’s still a vestige of decorum left. I suppose many people today would consider it archaic, but the practice of foregoing activities associated with fun, entertainment, or self-indulgence on Good Friday still seem appropriate to me. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I think the human spirit needs a little expression of reverence and restraint now and then.
I really believe there’s a timeless message for all of us in the events commemorated on Good Friday. It’s a message that’s meaningful regardless of one’s personal theology or lack thereof. It’s a message that’s been embraced by people as diverse as Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, John Paul II, and countless survivors of unspeakable atrocities. The message is contained in nine extraordinary words spoken by Jesus through his agony on the cross. After being mocked, beaten, scourged, humiliated, and tortured, He uttered nine words that seem incomprehensible to this day. “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”
No words could have shocked his tormentors more. Both Seneca and Cicero have described in chilling detail the usual reactions of crucifixion victims. Neither the Scribes and Pharisees, nor the Roman centurions, could have been prepared to hear words of forgiveness from their Victim. Quite the contrary, they would have expected a vastly different response. Even the Man who preached, “Love your enemies” could not be expected to speak forgiveness in response to such hideous torment.
Any thinking person, regardless of creed or culture, can’t help but ponder the ramifications of that kind of forgiveness. How would human history change if everyone practiced that virtue? There would be no fights, no feuds, no lawsuits, no wars. Hostility and revenge would cease to exist. There would be no prejudice or persecution. It’s difficult to fathom a world where forgiveness is foremost in everyone’s mind. But it would surely be close to paradise.
The message of Good Friday goes far beyond doctrine or dogma. It speaks to the exquisite potential within the human spirit to rise above the mean, vicious, and cowardly face of evil. No message could be as noble or as necessary for the world we live in today.