By Deacon Erik Wilkinson

“Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.” Is 53:4-5

Today, on Good Friday, we enter into the stillness and somberness of the mystery of the Cross.  We pause to keep watch and pray as we gaze upon the face our bruised and battered God.  A God who willingly gave of himself on this disgraceful instrument of torture and brutality.  Good Friday is a day when all our symbols recall a moment when God seemed absent, and all hope was lost.  Our churches are stripped to their bare necessities.  Statues and images are covered over.  Candles and kneelers are removed.  And for one day only, the tabernacle is left wide open, devoid of the saving presence of Christ.  As we approach the foot of the cross in adoration, our hearts might feel heavy and lonely, as we get a taste of the helplessness, outrage, fear, and abandonment that the first Christians felt.  As we contemplate how Jesus might have felt as he breathed his last – alone and afraid and a failure in the eyes of the world.

Our hearts are heavy today, too, as we re-enter a world of active executions in the State of Georgia. After a four-year hiatus, Willie James Pye was killed by lethal injection last week. Judged, condemned, alone, and afraid, Mr. Pye’s life was deemed to be of no more value to society. All avenues to grace, forgiveness, and mercy were closed off. His family and friends joined the family and friends of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough, his victim, in losing and grieving someone they loved. The cycle of violence and revenge remains unbroken and seemingly unending. Mr. Pye’s execution might be the first in many years, but we know it will not be the last. The state is gearing up to execute many more people as their appeals come to a close.

It can be tempting to despair and lose hope in the face of so much senseless violence. To feel as if Good Friday is not just a day, but an unchangeable reality of our broken and sinful world. To feel abandoned and left to fend for ourselves by a God who seems aloof and absent.

But whenever we confront the reality of suffering, fear, loss, and violence, we have to also allow ourselves to be comforted by the reality of our faith. In Jesus, the Christian story goes right through the cross, but the story doesn’t end there. You and I are not primarily a Good Friday people – we are an Easter people. Even on this darkest of days, we live in the hope and joy of the resurrection won on Easter.

Friends, the cross of Good Friday is the greatest love story ever told.  It speaks of a God freely and willingly encountering and embracing all the loss, brutality, pain, and hurt that the world can conjure up.  Because of Christ’s sacrifice, no one ever faces those realities alone.  In him, God embraces everyone who feels abandoned and betrayed: the victim of violent crime in their last fearful moments, the condemned inmate with arms stretched out in the execution chamber, all of us who face the loss of someone we love, the senselessness of terminal illness, the crosses and challenges of daily life.

Because the story never ends on Good Friday, we always live in Christian hope and joy. The world, and our lives, might seem cloudy and dark from time to time. Violent crime, and the machinery of state-sponsored execution might seem like an unbreakable and unchangeable reality. But hope is never lost. Suffering and death never get the last word. The true light of the world, Jesus Christ, can never be extinguished. It is up to each of us to bring that light into a fearful and darkened world.

But today, on Good Friday, we watch and pray. Our God is nearer to us that we can ever imagine.