Standing by the cross of Jesus were His Mother, and His Mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdelene. When Jesus saw His Mother and the Disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your Son!” Then HE said to the Disciple, “Behold, your Mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to His own home. After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, “It is finished” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. John 19: 25-30
Good Friday (as well as the rest of Holy Week), are a re-enactment of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. They are done with the purpose of us not only reliving and remembering what Christ did for us, but what it means for us, and for us to recommit to living the Christian life.
On that Good Friday, two thousand years ago, as day was breaking, Jesus was led to a hastily arranged trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate asked one of the most existential questions of the Bible, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Confused by the whole thing, he washed his hands and gave into the blood-thirsty mob who demanded that Jesus be crucified.
Jesus was then beaten and bloodied, tortured and whipped, and had a crown of thorns placed on (and into) his head. By this time, dehydrated and disoriented, a heavy cross was placed on His shoulders and the whipping continued as He carried it to Golgotha. Jesus suffered as no man had ever suffered. He was so broken down that He could not carry His cross and a man named Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to help. (Even the Lord had help carrying His cross, which is why we should help one another to carry our crosses, and we should also accept help in carrying our crosses).
Reaching Golgotha, Jesus was laid on the cross and had spikes driven through his wrists and ankles, affixing Him to the cross from which He would hang. The soldiers mocked Him. The passers-by gawked and made fun of Him. The sun hid its light. Day turned into night. Through all this, the words Jesus spoke were words of love and forgiveness. He forgave those who had crucified Him. He offered forgiveness to a repentant thief. He made sure His mother was taken care of. And then He finished what He had come to do—He bowed His head and He died.
The earth shook. The curtain of the temple was torn. The centurion who presided over the Crucifixion converted and became a Christian. Jesus’ lifeless body was taken down from the Cross and laid in a tomb. A day of chaos ended with the death and entombment of the Son of God.
These events are not just a story retold in movies, or relived in our Holy Week services. These events reversed the fall of humanity. Where Adam and Eve fell through partaking of the fruit of the forbidden tree, Christ hung from a tree and set us free from the fall. Where Adam and Eve fell to temptation, Christ remained strong in the face of every temptation and pain inflicted upon Him. Where Adam and Eve showed ingratitude, disobedience and dishonesty, Christ showed forgiveness, obedience and love.
The story is simple. The meaning is profound. Without a prayerful heart, the story remains just that, a story played out on the movie screen or in front of the church congregation. With a prayerful heart, the story comes alive. It provides an example. It provides direction. It provides clarity. It offers hope.
Good Friday is traditionally a day when people flock to the church. The evening service of Lamentations is packed with people. There is great pageantry as the choir sings, an army of altar boys stands guard, and little girls reprise the role of the myrrh-bearers. The congregation lights candles and hundreds process around the church, sometimes even through neighborhoods, carrying the tomb of Christ.
The original Good Friday was nothing like this. In these rituals every year, we actually depart from what is historically accurate. There were only two followers at the foot of Christ’s cross—His Mother and John, the beloved Disciple. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemos, along with seven women, ministered to Jesus in death. Three women saw where Jesus was laid. The rest of the disciples were locked behind closed doors, afraid of what was going to happen next.
This year, for what I pray will be the only year of our lives, we will mark Good Friday like the Disciples that first Good Friday. Only a few will be present at the cross and the grave. The rest will be huddled behind closed doors, many of us in fear of what will happen next, not in the Holy Week story (we know how that ends), but in our lives. Will life ever return to normal? Will it be safe to hug people? Will this kind of crisis ever happen again?
The disciples found themselves confused, afraid and doubtful about what they were doing. It is probable that many of us will experience these same emotions. I know that standing in church this week, I have wondered, “Is Holy Week really that big of a deal?” Or “Will people come back when this is over?” Or “Will this be the catalyst to spread Christianity or another nail in the coffin?”
Here is one redeeming thing about the disciples—they stayed together. They didn’t disperse and disappear. They stayed together. And after the Resurrection, they were gathered together and in this way they saw the Resurrected Christ. In this time of crisis, it is critical that we stay together, as families, and as a church family. We are not locked behind closed doors with lack of information. We are still able to follow the services with technology. And we can still mark this Holy Day with meaning. No, there will not be as much pageantry as usual. And you’ll have to work harder to stay attentive to the long services. But you can mark this day in a way that is unique and historically accurate.
Here are a few things you can do today:
First, make it a day of silence. Other than the screen you’ll watch the service from, stay off screens as much as possible. No music. No noise. No TV.
Second, watch as much of the services as possible. In between services, read the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion, as told in the Gospels that are read at the Royal Hours. Kneel during the Procession of the Epitaphios in the afternoon. Stand during the Procession of Friday night. Darken your house, light a couple of candles. Take away all sensory stimulation. And focus on the Lord. Remember what He did for you. And prayerfully consider how that affects you, and what it can awake in you, so that you can leave the experience ready to do for Him, ready to love Him more, ready to love others more.
You, who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, were taken down from the Cross by Joseph, with the help of Nicodemos. When he saw You dead, naked, and unburied, he took up a moving lamentation; and stricken with grief he said, “Alas, O sweetest Jesus! When the sun saw You hanging on the Cross just a little while ago, it wrapped itself in darkness; and out of fear the earth was quaking; and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. And now I see You voluntarily undergoing death for me. How am I to bury You, my God? Or how can I wrap You in a shroud? With what hands shall I touch Your immaculate body, or what sons should I be singing at Your departure, tender-loving Lord? I magnify Your Passion, and I extol Your burial and Your resurrection, as I cry out: O Lord, glory to You!” (Doxastikon of the aposticha of the Apokathelosis, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Mark Good Friday this year in a way that is historically accurate. Play the role of the disciples. Huddle together in your homes to watch and remember.