When I was younger, Good Friday inspired me. While I was thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice, I viewed it as the heroic act of an individual, independent human being—an adult choosing to give his life for others, which it was. And, such an act is worthy of the highest praise and appreciation. But, when I attend Good Friday services now, my response is different, particularly because of the passage describing the aftermath of Jesus’ death.
Once Jesus is clearly dead—he has stopped crying out, his side is pierced, the sun goes dark, the earth shakes—then what? A few of Jesus’ less famous followers, along with some women and his mother, requested the body so that they could bury it. After being given Jesus’ body, Joseph of Arimathea “wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb,” while Mary Magdalen and his mother watched. The echo of the Christmas story is hard to miss: Mary wrapped her son in linen and laid him in a manger; now another Joseph wraps him in linen and lays him in the tomb.
As a mother, I cannot hear these passages without imaging Mary’s thoughts, an imaginative exercise that the Gospel’s allusion virtually demands. As Mary watched her son being wrapped for his burial, she must have remembered his small, infant body that she wrapped so many times. As she viewed the bloody wounds, she must have remembered skinned knees and an array of small cuts and bruises she had kissed and made better in his childhood. Now, the broken body of her son was beyond her motherly skill and care. So she watched while Joseph wrapped him for the last time before laying him in the tomb.
Jesus is not simply God choosing to die for his beloved creation, not simply an independent man in his prime acting heroically. Jesus is Mary’s son and God the Son—he is, doubly marked as someone’s child. As such, Good Friday calls us to the ghastly reality of human brokenness and sin. If we stand with Mary on Good Friday, we cannot emerge unscathed. A spear will pierce our souls, too, because when Mary watched her son dying, it wasn’t simply for everyone else. He was suffering and dying for her sake.
Dying heroically for others is something humans aspire to—but we never want our children to suffer for us. As parents, it is our job and even our joy to suffer for them. I imagine that Mary wanted desperately to stop the horror playing out before her eyes. Did she know, in those hours, that her boy’s suffering was for her? Suffering to save her?
Mary may have been spared that horrific knowledge in the moment—but as Christians enter into Good Friday, we are not spared the knowledge that this death is on our behalf. We are not spared the knowledge that Someone’s Son suffered torture and died to free each of us from the never-ending destruction that we wreak upon the world. To live with any sense of entitlement or pride in our own goodness is ridiculous in light of Good Friday. The only way forward from such horror is humility, submission to the God who refuses to let us go, and gratitude.