Worship at Home - Good Friday - a moment to stop and reflect
To begin this short reflection for Good Friday find an online image of Christ on his Cross and keep it there on your screen, or instead or if you prefer, find a picture in a book or one that is maybe hanging on the wall, or even just look at a bare cross. Have it there in front of you, and just think about what it says to you...
And then when you are ready, read these words from the first verse of Isaac Watt’s great hymn. Read them through very slowly. Stop at the end of each line and look at whatever image you may have set up in front of you. Then, read the line again, in this way working through the whole verse.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Think about those words: And pour contempt on all my pride. There is a seemingly inescapable darkness about Good Friday. It is day on which darkness seems to reign. It is the deep darkness of evil and of cruelty, of abuse, of separation, of innocent suffering and betrayal. It is the despair of separation from God, so, it is too, a darkness that speaks of the evil that is so deeply rooted within us all.
In John’s Gospel we read these words, words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ (John 3: 14-15 NIVUK). In his ‘John for Everyone’ commentary Tom wright suggests that what this means is that when we look at Jesus hanging on the cross, ‘lifted up’ as we read it in John’s Gospel, what we are looking at is the result of the evil in which we are all stuck. But what we are also looking at, he says, is what God has done about it. What we are seeing is God’s love and what that love looks like. Jesus lifted up on the cross is the full and dramatic display of God’s own love.1 So, in short, that lifting up of the Son is grounded in the Father’s love.
Pause for a moment to think about that. As we look at Christ on the cross what we are seeing is God’s love.
Now look again at your image of Christ on the Cross and read through this second verse from Isaac Watt’s hymn, in the same way as you read the first, reading slowly, line by line, taking in the meaning of each word and stopping at the end of each line.
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.
in the cross of Jesus
we see the cost of our sin
and the depth of your love:
in humble hope and fear
may we place at his feet
all that we have and all that we are,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3: 16)
This is perhaps the best known and most often preached text in the entire Bible. And with good reason! Because John 3: 16 is the whole great truth, it is the heart of the Gospel, it is a masterly and moving summary of the Gospel – the background of the canvas on which the rest of the Gospel is painted, as it has been rather beautifully described.
The words that John uses here signify the intensity of God’s love. What we need to grasp here is the unfathomable depth of the love of God: ‘God so loved...’ writes John. And in his great love God went so far as to ‘give [up]’ his one and only Son. I think that what John stresses here is the greatness of the gift –resonating perhaps with Genesis 22 and with Abraham’s ‘giving up’ of his son Isaac. But that was a faint foreshadow of the sacrifice made in the heart of God.
What John wants us to grasp is that if the depth of love is measured by the value of the gift, then God’s love could not be greater. For his gift is of his most precious possession. So, this is love that is vast. This is love that is unbounded. This is love that is like a bottomless sea. And this is the love that is the very heart of the Gospel. Not simply that God loved, but that God so loved the world that he gave. He gave. It was an act at a particular time and place, on that day, at Golgotha but also a continuing act of generosity. And it cost the Father’s heart. The Father gave his best, his unique, his beloved Son. He could not love more.
Pause for a moment to think about that: it cost the Father’s heart. He could not love more.
So, place Christ on the cross before your eyes once again and see in him the heart of God poured out in love as you read this third verse from Watt’s hymn. Line by line. Pausing at the end of each line, reading each word. Read it through as many times as you wish.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Father, hear our prayer and forgive us.
Unstop our ears,
that we may receive the gospel of the cross.
Lighten our eyes,
that we may see your glory in the face of your Son.
Penetrate our minds,
that your truth may make us whole.
Irradiate our hearts with your love,
that we may love one another for Christ’s sake.
Father, forgive us.
As we gaze at Jesus on the cross the love of God that we see is love that is all-inclusive. This is love that embraces us all. It is the gracious embrace of God’s love for those who do not deserve his love and who cannot ever earn his love. The love of God isn’t the consequence of our loveliness but of the sublime truth that ‘God is love’ as we read it in 1 John 4: And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. The scope of this is vast. It is the self-less, costly love of redemption. Jesus’ passion is divine glory and its purpose is that: whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. And so, against and in the face of all that great darkness that seems to encompass Good Friday and in the face too of all that we might do to shun the love of God, his love shines out most gloriously. Light truly comes into darkness. God’s purpose is salvation for all through faith in his Son.
So, what is to be our response? The coming of the light forces a choice on everyone. Sadly, many refuse the light and continue to embrace the darkness. But the message of the cross, the message of Good Friday is that we need is to open our lives to the light and to come to the light. That we need to look to Jesus and see in him the full display of God’s saving love, trusting in him. Believing in Jesus, says Tom Wright, means coming to the light, the light of God’s new creation: The crucifixion of Jesus has planted a sign in the middle of history. And the sign says: believe and live.2
Pause for a moment to think about that: believe and live.
And now, place that image of Christ before your eyes once again and see in him the heart of God poured out in love. See to, that the throne of His kingdom is the cross and its crown is made of thorns.
Now read this final verse from Watt’s hymn, in the same way that we have read the others.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Standing at the foot of the cross, let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
1 Tom Wright ‘John for Everyone’ [London: SPCK, 2002) pp.33-4
Hymn ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’ written by Isaac Watts, published 1707. Copyright status is Public Domain
Bible Quotations: Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers and Liturgy: copyright © The Archbishops' Council of the Church or England