Are you watching with a shattered heart, as your loved one suffers? The one who you hold dear is being brutalized, tormented, living in anguish, and you are there. Maybe you wish your loved one had done things differently, or that you had done things differently so that this awful thing would not be happening, but you also know it’s not your fault, and it’s your loved one’s fault, that he or she is being hurt this way. You feel the pain and you can’t take it away, you can’t fix it, you feel like you can’t do anything for the one you love. Is this you?
Or, are you there on Golgotha, looking at the ones whose lives are being taken apart, with a sense of morbid curiosity? You bear witness to the tragedy, but it doesn’t really affect you? You see the suffering of other people, and you sense that there is injustice in it. But you’re glad it’s them and not you, not your friends or family. Like a bad car accident you can’t look away, and the more you look, the more your heart goes out to the ones who suffer. Maybe you should do something, say something? But of course you don’t want to make a scene. There are men with weapons nearby – the architects of this travesty – and you don’t want their attention. Is this you, aware but detached?
Are you there on Golgotha as a perpetrator of the crime, yourself? Is someone suffering because of your cruelty, your greed, your hatred? Are you the one whose words or actions have brought agony and humiliation and sorrow upon the life of another? Do you look at the crucified Christ and know that the same brutality that drove nails through his hands lives in you? Has it destroyed other people, through you? Is this violence your violence? Is this you?
Or are you there on Golgotha as the crucified one? Is it you who is being mocked and abused and broken? Is it you who suffers? Is it you who is being killed? Is this you?
Who are you, in the crowd on Golgotha?
In Mark’s account of the crucifixion, the last thing Jesus says on the cross is, “Why?” And we all ask this question, no matter which part of the story we play.
Those of us who weep for our beloved ask why anyone would do this to a good person, someone who was working to make the world a better place? Why are they doing this?
Those of us who watch from afar, captivated but not emotionally invested, still ask why the world is the way that it is. Why do people destroy rather than build? Why do they kill rather than grow? Why do the bad guys win?
Even those of us who commit violence in word and deed ask why. Why am I like this? Why did I do that?
And those of us who are on the cross in agony, ask why this fate is ours, and why God has turned away.
Maybe there’s a true and real answer to these questions, and maybe there isn’t. But one piece of truth is this: We all spend time on Golgotha. We all know or will know what it is to feel forsaken.
Forsaken by the world. Forsaken by the Light, by the Good. Forsaken by God.
This story is our story, and if you choose to own it, to know that it’s not just a story people tell this time of year, but that it belongs to you, and you are a part of it, you must be willing open yourself to great pain, and be willing live in deep darkness, maybe for a little while, maybe for a long time. It’s difficult to know the truth this deeply without being consumed by grief and fear.
The promise we have is that if we stay on Golgotha for this time, if we don’t run, if we don’t pretend there is no crucifixion, we’ll be able to see what comes next, and what comes next will be different. The promise is that in being willing to live through the darkness, we make ourselves ready for the new day. It’s risky, and it’s scary. But all of life’s greatest treasures are risky and scary. It’s scary to love a baby, knowing the types of things that happen in the world. It’s risky and it’s scary to live a life of compassion – it opens us up to unspeakable sadness and grief, but it is also the gateway to meaning and joy we’d never experience otherwise.
Easter only comes after Good Friday, which is why we call such a horrible day good. It’s twisted, I know.
So we stick it out, because of the promise. We spend the time we have to spend on Golgotha, the forsaken place.
When the time comes to leave, go home and sleep if your spirit will let you. Spend the Sabbath day resting and waiting, and whatever fear and rage and grief and exhaustion and hope and worry lives within you, let it be. When Sunday comes, greet the new day and see what it brings.
If you’re weeping at the foot of the cross tonight, in a couple days you might discover an empty tomb – there might be a glorious new reality in the loved one you feared was lost.
If you’re watching from a distance, wondering what the world’s violence and suffering have to do with you, there may be something growing within you tonight and tomorrow, a spirit of renewal and reorientation. And very soon, a new dawn of purpose and meaning and delight may welcome you.
If you’re held in the grip violence, knowing the harm you’ve caused, but knowing no other way to be, no other way to solve problems, no other way to find security than through violent words and deeds, listen to the crucified one. There may be a day, maybe very soon, when you will be converted to peace. No longer a persecutor, you may become an apostle.
And if tonight you are broken and bruised and mocked and dying, if the crucified one is you, there might be a day, maybe very soon, when you realize that you are being resurrected. And the viciousness that once tore you down, no longer has any power over you, at all.
Maybe this will happen. For now, we’re here on Golgotha, in this forsaken place, together, holding on.