by Rev. Fr. K.K. John
Key verse: 'He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the place of a skull which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him, and two others with him, one on either side and Jesus in the center,' John 19: 17-18.
We say, 'Sad Friday' in Malayalam, but 'Good Friday' in English. These words import opposite meanings and yet we accept both. It is sad because our Lord in His humanity suffered the most humiliating and excruciating death on the cross. Church admonishes the believers to identify with Lord in His passion through intense prayer, fasting, and worshipping. It is good because by His death trampled death once and for all and so that we inherit life everlasting with Him. However, this name does not come from our Oriental Church fathers. We partake in the Good Friday services with deserving piety and identify ourselves with the suffering Lord. The uniqueness of this day cannot be understated, that even persons who otherwise not show interest to attend Sunday services make it a point to attend Good Friday services. In fact, there is a lovely term among us calling them, 'Good Friday Christians.' We recount too many things that took place on this fateful day and it is impossible to narrate them all. So I would dwell with bare minimum points to meditate.
1, all gospels name the place as 'Golgotha.' This Hebrew word means, Place of Skull. 'Calvary' is the Latin form bearing same meaning. There are different interpretations for the word. Some say the place was so called because the place was of skull shape. Others say that the place was littered with skulls of those who were executed. These are simply wild imaginations. Littering the skull of a person was most contemptible act for a Jew. One who is familiar with Jewish custom would never utter such blatant opinion. Our venerable fathers interpreted that the place was so named (Thalayodidam) because Adam was buried there and his skull was present there. 'Wooden cross of our Lord Jesus Christ was posted in the same spot where Adam was buried, where Melchizedek ministered his priesthood, and where Abraham sacrificed his son. Blood and water from our Lord mysteriously streamed into the mouth of Adam,' 9th hour Sedro of Good Friday, page 169.
2, From Pilate's palace to the place of crucifixion Jesus bore the wooden cross. During that journey He endured scourges and insults from the soldiers and the public. The only section who never, both during His earthly ministry and also while suffering, reviled Him was women. Silently weeping and wailing, they followed Him. His journey to the cross is worth pondering. Incarnate Word of God endured afflictions to ensure our salvation. We should be thankful God, the Son for his sufferings for us. Barabbas was so overwhelmed that he spent the rest of his life as a penitent convert always thinking how Jesus suffered in his stead. Jesus died for you and I and this thought should enable us to turn from evil ways and turn to Him in repentance.
3, He was crucified with two others. There are three crosses on the hill of Calvary. For easy understanding, let me call 'S, S, S' for each cross. 1, cross of sinner who died in sin (left), 2, Savior who died for sin (center), and 3, Sinner who died to sin (right). Bible says that the two who were crucified with Jesus Christ were offenders. They had committed various anti-social activities and according to one of them they deserved to die on the cross. There are so many similarities between them. They shared the same acts and booties and the same punishments and yet they ended up in different estates. One gained Paradise and the other hell. What made that difference' Bible does not specify which one was saved and which one was not saved. Church Fathers interpret that the thief on the right side was saved and the thief on the left side was condemned. This was probably because the Lord Himself once compared left side for damnation and right side for eternal bliss. The thief on the right side had the goodwill to discern the sinless Savior at his eleventh hour and put trust in Jesus.
The story of salvation of the thief on the right side is familiar to all and we often quote. Most people think they can repent at the last moment of their life even as the thief did. The thief had no prior knowledge of the Lord and the moment he knew about the Savior he accepted the Lord and the Lord accepted his sincere appeal. This might not be the case of those who having had the opportunity to know Him, postpone to accept Him. Looking back to the history of baptism, we see in the early church some people postponed baptism to the last minute with the intent that if they confess the Lord and baptize immediately before death they inherit heaven without sin. But none of the Church fathers documented it as something worth practicing. Surely there is an urgency to confess the Lord and lead a righteous life because of the greatest certainty is the uncertainty of death. Apostle says, 'now' is the time to repent, turn from evil ways and put trust in Lord. Whoever thinks he or she will get chance 'tomorrow' lives in fool's paradise.
A story about Hindu god, Ganapathy goes like this. Ganapathy wanted to marry. He requested Parwathy, his mother to arrange marriage for him. She said, it is not yet time and he had to wait. He became impatient and insisted for immediate reply. She them promised, 'OK, wait for tomorrow.' Each day morning he goes to mother only to learn that 'tomorrow' has not come yet. 'Tomorrow' will never come, so do it today and now.
The first cross is of sinner who dies in sin. This is the thief at the left side of Jesus. He had the same opportunity to accept Lord. He had seen all the things that the other thief saw. Not only he did not discern the salvation through the Lord but also hardened his mind. This is the situation of the one who perishes. The Bible says that heart of Pharaoh was hardened ten times which led him to his final doom. Closing the mind to obey Gospel is hardening of heart and the end thereof will be eternal tormenting of soul in the lake of fire and brimstone. Some people are ashamed to worship Christ in this life and it is impossible for such one to accept Christ in the other world. Those who want to worship Lord in eternity should worship Him while in this life.
The second cross is of Savior who dies for sin. It is in the center. He bore our sins and trespasses and bought us with His atoning blood that streamed on the cross. Isaiah depicts our Lord as suffering servant. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities and through his stripes we are healed, Is 53:5. Marlowe's 'Dr. Faustus' comes to mind. Christopher Marlowe lived in a time when man's quest for knowledge boomed leaps and bounds. Man put hand in every possible realm of knowledge and in the rush not many cared for morality and ethics. Dr. Faustus is typical character of the medieval quest for knowledge. He evaluates most branches of knowledge and finally driven by lust and pride chose necromancy. The story of temptation, morality, deadly sins, good angel, bad angel, fall and damnation, etc are drawn well in the drama. What made a lasting impression in mind from the day I learned it in 1966, is the core of the drama. Dr Faustus nearing end of his contract severely laments about his wrong choice. He pleads for redemption at the last hour but never attained for it was too late.
'The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd.
O, I will leap up to my God! Who pulls me down'
See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop; ah, my Christ!
Ah, rent not my heart for naming of my Christ!
Yet will I call on him; O, spare me Lucifer!
Where is it now' 'tis gone; and see, where God
Stretcheth out his arm, and bends his ireful brows!
Mountains and hills, come, come, and fall on me,
And hide me from the heavy wrath of God!'
This Faustus is not merely a drama hero but a representative of all the elite groups of intellectuals of the day. Faustus should be a lesson to one who deliberately opt to live in sin and one who is namesake Christian who takes religion a camouflage for sinful living.The third cross is of the sinner who dies to sin, rather saved by the Savior. Having living all his life in sin, he took the first opportunity to forsake all his wrong ways and put trust in Lord. He was the most fortunate one who could enter paradise even before Adam. As the poet said, 'If winter comes, can spring be far behind?' Our unfailing hope and peace is that we who are saved by the victorious cross are also waiting to partake in the glorious resurrection. My family and I wish you all a very happy feast of resurrection.
Passion Week Supplement
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