Coptic icon of the crucifixion.

Holy Friday is the one day of the year when globally Christians participate in corporate meditation upon the crucifixion of Christ. We are an odd people. The death of Christ on a Roman cross is the capitol punishment of a man whom many thought to be the Messiah. Of course, the Messiah is not one who dies this kind of death. The Torah said that one who dies on a tree is cursed (Deut. 21.23). Messiah cannot die death by crucifixion. That would mean that Israel’s God has cursed him.

On Holy Friday all we know is that the events of the day disqualify Jesus from being the Messiah. The Messiah is to be the King of Israel. The Messiah is to reign as the pinnacle of the Davidic line. The Messiah is to restore the Kingdom to Israel. The Messiah will purge the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of all the unrighteous, wicked God-haters. The Messiah will reestablish the covenant with the people of God. For some it appears this would be a time when the eschatological Holy Spirit would recreate the nation. For some this was a time when the resurrection of the righteous dead would occur. For some this was when God would judge the nations. Messiah hanging lifeless on a Roman cross is none of these things.

It is hard for Christians on the other side of the resurrection to understand this perplexing paradigm. For those who are not committed to Jesus as the risen Lord and Christ it remains troublesome.

One of my favorite portions of Scripture is 1 Corinthians 1.18-31ff. The Apostle Paul opens this section with words that embrace the problem: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (v. 18). There is no way for the world to interpret the crucifixion as we do. At best, some may admire it as if Jesus was a martyr who chose to die rather than kill. We Christians find our very salvation being enacted in this event. We may not agree on all that occurred on the cross, but we know at least it was the catalyst to the cosmic changing event known as the resurrection.

For many we speak of this event as a “sacrifice” for our sins as Jesus the “holy Lamb” presented his very person as both the High Priest who offers the Paschal offering and as the offering itself. We see him as the “Servant” who embodied the role given to Israel in the Book of Isaiah suffering injustice. Jesus is the one who bore the curse on his body. Jesus is the one who tricked death into swallowing his body to find that the sinless Son of God killed death itself. We may go on and on regarding the various theories and images that surround this event, but the main point is that what the world sees as weakness God has used as power for salvation.

In Corinth it was not many who were wise, who were rich, who were given political authority that found glory in this symbol of capital punishment (vv. 26-27). It was those who were considered fools, the poor, the weak and the marginalized. In my context here in the United States this may seem to be something that has changed, but globally the body of Christ continues to draw these people. Many of those who find a place in the family of God are those who had nothing that the world found desirable.

I can read the Apostle’s words over and over again as he writes (vv. 20-25, NIV):

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

The world cannot understand Holy Friday because death is not victory and being violated is not strength, being that this is not the system of the world. As Paul wrote (vv. 27-30):

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

On Holy Friday we boast not in ourselves. Even if we are considered wealthy, affluent, or educated by the world it was none of these things that opened our eyes to the work of God through Christ on the cross. This is the role of the Spirit. Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God for us. Jesus redefines reality. Holy Friday can be called “Good” not because death is good or violence is good, but because the Son of God absorbed the blow of death and violence upon his person so that he could be vindicated through the resurrection which establishes him as God’s chosen King of the cosmos and the one who reigns over all, including death, an enemy that he is putting under his authority so that “God might be all in all.”