Many in the Philippines are taking Good Friday very seriously. Today at least 11 men and one woman were literally nailed to crosses. About 100 men in one town, old and young, whipped their backs with bundles of sticks as relatives helped keep the blood flowing with razor blades and water. For all their devotion I am afraid they have missed the point.
Let's back up a bit and begin with the incarnation. God became man. The son of God was conceived by the Father in the womb of a teenage girl who was engaged to be married. He was born into poverty, and was taught carpentry by his earthly father. When he hit his 30's he began preaching and teaching. He called unqualified, ordinary men to be his disciples. He would be their rabbi. The Rabbi. He befriended the poor, the sinners, the sick, the forgotten and the lost. It was said of him that he would take away the sins of the world. He said that his gift for the world was eternal, abundant life that we could have today. He invited all who were spiritually thirsty to come to him and drink. He said he came to serve, not be served. And all of this was ultimately accomplished on the cross.
Jesus was nailed to a cross of wood as a criminal of religion and state, and perhaps he was - though not in the ways accused. His life and message included a revolt against the popular religion of the day and established a King with greater authority than any emperor, ruler or president. Yet he was no enemy of the world. It was his love for the world, and his covenant with the Father that led him to the cross, for there our sins are washed away and the just penalty for our sins was paid. His death is our good.
Good Friday is more than a day of remembrance. It is a day of invitation. It begins with the indicative of what Jesus did and flows into the imperative of what Jesus calls us to do. So let's remember, Jesus denied himself and carried his cross - obtaining salvation for us and showing us the way. He denied Himself by submitting to the perfect will of the Father, by seeking to serve and save others rather than being served and saving himself. He carried his cross by being obedient to the point of death. No one took his life from him, but he laid it down on his own accord. He willingly gave up his life to take it up again three days later gaining victory over death.
But Jesus calls us to do more than remember. He calls us to deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow him. This means we put God and others first (the greatest commandments). It means we follow Jesus in such a way that his desires are our desires, and his actions become ours. It means giving up the suburban values of safety and comfort and practicing the virtue of self-sacrifice as a picture and a preaching of the Gospel. Following Jesus is not merely about what we believe. It is also about what we do. Some say it this way, "What we say we believe is not what we believe. What we do is what we really believe." So Jesus calls us to follow: to believe; to do; to be; to carry a cross; to die.
The death of Jesus holds our life, but it also holds our death. In his death we find forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and in his death we find a call to die. To die to self, sin and the world and in that daily dying we find freedom. Freedom to be like our Savior. Good Friday is all about death, and it is good.