Good Friday Reflection

April 18, 2014

As I was sitting in the choir tonight contemplating the Scriptures, the songs, and the choral pieces offered during our Good Friday service, something struck me rather forcefully. All four gospel accounts make note that Jesus remained conscious throughout his crucifixion ordeal. The evidence that he remained alert is that, in each case, he said something right before he died and then “he gave up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50, John 19:30; “breathed his last,” Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46).

Jesus was in agony. He was slowly dying of asphyxiation, caused by the unnatural position of his body hanging by the wrists on a cross. The tightness I feel in my chest these days—due to asthma or reactive airways after lung surgery—is nothing compared to the heaviness Jesus felt trying to keep his lungs filled with air. The weight of his body was slowly compressing his breathing apparatus. He was awake and alert while this happened. This fact alone convinces me that Jesus endured the cross intentionally, rationally, and convincingly. He chose this, and he stayed awake to feel every pain, gasp every breath, and say every word that needed to be said, until “It is finished.”

Unless we are on a battlefield somewhere, this type of death is so rare as to be beyond most ordinary experience. In this country, at least, if one is under any kind of medical care at all, the symptoms and side effects of impending death are addressed through pain control, anti-anxiety medications, warm bedding, and supplemental oxygen. My mother suffered a stroke on Saturday, April 5. Within three hours of that splitting headache that caused her neighbor to call 9-1-1, Mom was unconscious. No longer in pain, experiencing no agitation, and aided in breathing with a ventilator, she was accompanied by the kindness of family members keeping watch and nurses ministering their wonders of care and comfort. She slipped into heaven about 60 hours after the initial symptoms set in, and her four children were glad that she did not suffer.

But Jesus suffered when he died for us. He missed nothing of the indignity, the agony, and the heaviness of his burden. He carried us and bore our wounds upon himself, and that is why we call Good Friday good. He poured out his love for us by taking upon himself what we deserve for our sin. And he did it the hard way.

While I experience the breathing difficulties yet to be resolved, while I go back into the chemo cave (on Monday) to feel that cellular-level fatigue once again, while I fully heal from the amazing surgery that has rendered me cancer-free, I want to remember Jesus’ painful process that led to my New Life. Though I have tried here to imagine what he went through, I will never fully know the extent of his resolve but only enjoy its benefits.

And if I am ever called upon to suffer for the sake of Christ or in service to others, may I do so with eyes wide open, alert not only to the pain but also to its purpose, just as Jesus did.

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