Each year about this time I lament my disappointment as I once again embark on a futile search for a place to observe Good Friday among my protestant based churches. Mind you not all have done away with such observances, but with each passing year the offerings become fewer and fewer. In a feel-good age of cheap grace and victorious living, the message of suffering, forbearance and surrender of self, becomes increasingly diluted if mentioned at all. The challenge of taking up one’s own cross and submitting to the unpredictable and uncomfortable life of following our Savior in His suffering and death is being largely replaced with the more popular theology of living your best life, tapping into God’s treasure trove and living a free-style life where all is covered by grace and a high five is preferable to a lowly stature of humble prayer and reflective remorse. The cross is only relevant as a piece of jewelry or a favored tattoo and not a reminder of our sinful roots.
The cheap form of grace that some brandish about like an infinite well we didn’t have to dig was provided to us at a high cost. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dierich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the cost of this grace:
“such grace is costly because it calls us to follow. It is costly because it costs a man his life and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son; “ye were bought with a price”, and what cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”
That cost was paid on a cross. There would be no Resurrection Sunday without the horrendous events surrounding Good Friday. In fact there would be little value at all in an empty tomb except that given it by the verified death just three days earlier. It is the cross that empowers the message of the resurrection-it is the bloodshed and the suffering and the ultimate show of sacrificial love by means of the cross that gives life and hope to the message of redemption and eternal life revealed by the empty tomb. But somewhere in our attempt to make more palatable the message of hope and forgiveness many have left out the call to obedience, suffering, discipline and selflessness that the cross represents. A 30 second Sinners Prayer void of a call to total submission under the weight of a daily cross would be to hard to receive and would turn many away, so it is left off the buffet of inspirational anecdotes and dessert blessings lest the people may not come.
While I enjoy the freedom of our worship styles I am never drawn away from the integrity of the old hymns. One of my favorites was written by Isaac Watts over three hundred years ago, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. The descriptives held within the lyrics paint for us an undiluted picture of the price paid on the cross and the eternal value that lies within the solemn observance of that first Good Friday;
- When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count as loss and pour contempt on all my pride. 2. Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to his blood. 3. See, from his head, his hands, his feeet-sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e;er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown. 4. Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, deserves my soul, my life, my all.
I boast not or works or tell of good deeds for naught have I done to merit his grace
All glory and praise shall rest upon him so willing to die in my place
I will glory in the cross, in the cross, lest his suffering all be in vain
I will weep no more for the cross that he bore-I will glory in the cross.
May you have a blessed, reflective and completely cognizant Easter celebration as we acknowledge the whole Easter story from the incarnation to the passion, from the death to the resurrection and from his ascention to his eventual return, all made possible by his obedience to the cross.