Good Friday. Today, I am thinking more than ever how Jesus must have felt that day. The night before he was so distressed about it that as he prayed he sweated blood. Before the dawn broke he saw the betrayal or desertion of his closest friends. Then the horrific events of the day itself; early morning trials before Pilate and Herod, being scourged, being crowned with thorns and mocked, carrying His cross to Golgotha and then being crucified as a criminal. It’s no wonder that about the time he was ready to die he called out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (cf. Psalm 22)
This becomes all the more frightening when we remember that Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Take up your cross, and follow me!’ (cf. Matthew 16:24) In effect, after the first Good Friday, this becomes, ‘See this? This is what you are called to!’ We don’t often think about the Cross that way. We like to see it as a gift, as grace (and it is those things!) but we don’t feel totally comfortable seeing it as a vocation or calling. I suspect that what’s true for me is true for most of us: I don’t mind obeying God if it costs me things I am willing to give up. The Good Samaritan story? I love that. I could do that; that costs money and time. The cross? It costs everything.
I have a particular cross – miniature compared to Jesus’ example – to bear this week that is on my mind a lot: preparing for first confession. This will happen right before the Easter Vigil; I will need to go into a confessional and confess all the sins I remember from my life to a priest sitting on the other side of a screen. I have to relive my history in my head, all my greatest failings, and organize them so that I can recite them to another human being. The traditional formula is: ‘Bless me father for I have sinned. It is my first confession…’ I’m thinking, ‘Bless me father for I have sinned. Get comfortable, because it’s my first confession and I’ve got a quarter century worth of sins to confess!’ describes the situation better.
Even with the anonymity of the confessional, it is a daunting task, and I don’t like it. Somehow, the idea of verbalizing all the things I have done wrong in the presence of another human being, even one sworn to secrecy, is more uncomfortable than standing before the Creator of the world in prayer and confessing what I have done wrong. I should feel this way about telling God my sins directly; I should be just as ashamed of my sins, but we humans are strange. The Act of Contrition, a traditional post-confession prayer, includes the line ‘I detest all my sins’ and I know by the time I get there, I will mean it. I will be able to celebrate Jesus’ forgiveness in my life. That’s the part I look forward to and normally skip to in my own prayers. Normally when praying I ask, ‘Please forgive all my sins’ without mentioning anything specific. I just don’t like confession.
On today of all days, though, I ought to remember that on Good Friday Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate discomfort, on His cross. He was obedient to His Father. This imitation I am being called to is a much smaller thing that is well within my means. Doing it means being humble and obedient, in some personal way imitating the Cross. Whatever your cross this week (or this Lenten season), join me in prayer as we look to He who suffered far more than we are being asked to. Remember, with me, why we call this brutal day Good Friday and with Jesus’ help we’ll accomplish everything He gives us to do.