As I was driving home from our Good Friday services this afternoon, I caught the tail end of a sports radio talk show that I listen to on a regular basis. The hosts had apparently exhausted their sports-related talking points and were discussing their plans for the weekend. One mentioned that in honor of Easter, he had planned to do some community service, but, finding the process of signing up for a project too daunting, had abandoned those plans. Oddly, his partner praised him for his generosity, even though he was no longer planning to do anything. At first, I could not understand this exchange. I didn’t understand why the one host talked about his failed community service plans or why the other host thought that his willingness even to think about doing community service was praiseworthy. As I thought about it a little more, however, I realized that most people listening to the program probably identified completely with the conversation. As a rule, human beings are full of good intentions, and as a rule, we like to be praised for our good intentions. Whether it is going to the gym or giving money to public radio or volunteering for a local service organization or calling our parents on a regular basis or telling our spouse we love them every day, we always say that we are going to do good, that we are going to put the effort into making a difference in our community. But, invariably, life gets in the way. We run out of time because we have to work late. We run out of money because we have to bring the car into the shop. We run out of patience because we are in a bad mood. Inevitably, our plans crumble around us and we fail to do what we said we would do. This is one of the undeniable realities of the human experience: try as we might, it very difficult for us to be faithful to our good intentions.
On Good Friday, the Church has always emphasized the centrality of the cross to the Christian faith. Few texts embody the Church’s understanding of the cross better than this verse from Venantius Fortunatus’ “Sing my tongue, the glorious battle”:
Faithful cross among all others: the one noble tree. Its branches offer nothing in foliage, fruit, or blossom. Yet sweet wood and sweet iron sustain sweet weight.
The first adjective used to describe the cross, and by extension the one who was crucified on the cross, is “faithful.” Perhaps the most important thing we affirm about Jesus’ experience of his Passion is his faithfulness, his obedience even to death on a cross, his willingness to do what he said he was going to do. Jesus Christ did not succumb to the very human tendency to look for excuses or be derailed by doubt. In spite of the abandonment of his disciples, in spite of his betrayal, in spite of his own self-doubt, Jesus marched inexorably toward the cross, because that is what he said he was going to do. Through Christ’s example, we can trust that we can be faithful to God and one another even in the most challenging and overwhelming circumstances of our lives. We can be faithful because in his death on Calvary, Jesus Christ revealed that God will be faithful to us. More than anything else, the “goodness” of this Friday is intimately tied to the faithfulness of a God who is with us even when we come face to face with death.