“Jesus said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Good Friday, 2 April 2021
Long before he converted to Catholicism, the great Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde did a university exam where he had to translate a reading of the Passion from Greek. He carried on after his oral examiners told him to stop, telling them, “I want to find out if he gets away in the end”. Wilde was being deliberately flippant, but I think it sums up what many of us feel. Yes, we know what happens – the Resurrection. But how should we feel about the Passion?
Even this line from St John’s version highlights the tension. It can be read negatively: it’s over; all is lost; Jesus dies a total failure. Or it can be read positively: it is ‘accomplished’ which some translators prefer for finished – mission accomplished. In other words, I have done everything I set out to do. I have done my Father’s work. And for ‘gave up his spirit’: it can mean a sense of defeat, dispiritedness. Or, once again, how you read the language, it could be Jesus literally breathed out his spirit. The same Spirit that renews the world, renews all people who are open to it. In other words, it is the breath of new life, resurrection.
I can never quite work out what to feel on Good Friday. Can I – like Wilde – pretend not to know the ending? Not really.
So what about many people for whom the reading of the Passion is a truly emotional experience? Perhaps, and here one may see how such people are often found in situations of suffering or adversity. They can identify more fully with utter defeat. The challenge, of course, for them is to move beyond Good Friday to Easter Sunday, to the sense of resurrection hope and new life.
For me, perhaps, the challenge is to stay, at least a while, with that sense of utter defeat – that at very least Jesus’ disciples certainly felt on that day. To muse over how far I might be willing to go to achieve what I feel God is calling me to do. Could I go to the cross for my convictions?
So – what feelings does the Passion evoke in you? Where are you today – on the cross, watching from afar…or in hiding?