Good Friday: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani

The Friday before Easter is a silent day. Anyone who has ever had to cope with grief and loss knows how good silence can be. Jesus’ companions were also in mourning. They had had to look on as their Master was tortured, crucified, and killed. They were right there and witnessed these barbaric acts…

Strictly speaking, Good Friday is based on a positive motivation: “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24: 26). Yes, He had to. Simply reading this statement makes it seem so theoretical. It comes across as almost harmless. However, anyone who has ever been beaten, tortured, terrorised, and humiliated in his or her life hears or reads such a question with a completely different understanding. Sure, people say, “All’s well that ends well,” but nobody really wants to suffer.

The story of the suffering Christ is quickly recounted. The New Testament gospels relate what transpired. The Bible verses seem strangely detached, hardly illustrating how truly cruel it all was. It could have been worded differently.

  • Instead of: “Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no fault in this man.’ But they were the more fierce, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place’” (Luke 23: 4–5). Is it not strange to suddenly notice that foreigners are on your side, while your own neighbours, your own people, are betraying you? What does it matter that you are of the same lineage, something that played such an important role for the Jews? Being rejected by your own people hurts!
  • Instead of: “And they all cried out at once, saying, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’” (Luke 23: 18). How terrible when people chant slogans at the side of the road, work themselves into a frenzy, and declare someone fair game? What kind of a world do these people live in? As if shouting loud enough is the better argument. One of them, an innocent man, is to be killed while a convicted murderer is to be released? What an aberration. Arguments no longer count. The shouting and the uproar are louder.
  • Jesus is scourged, which means that He is badly beaten. He is whipped until the skin breaks open and the blood spurts out. It was supposed to hurt a lot. The cries of the one being beaten triggers joy among the onlookers. “He deserves it!” Only, what exactly was it that He had supposedly done?
  • Jesus is stripped naked in public, in front of everybody. He is denied his right to personal integrity. What do the tormentors care that one humiliation is inflicted upon another. As if in a frenzy they carry on. Violence acts like a drug.
  • Jesus is marched through the streets and flogged, and a public spectacle made of it: like a bloody mannequin in a shop window for all to feast their eyes upon. The wooden cross weighs heavily on His open wounds. Every step causes excruciating pain. They laugh at Him, hit Him, spit at Him, and gawk at Him. Howling apes in human clothes.
  • Even as He hung on the cross, the chief priests and the scribes still ridiculed Him and hurled insults at Him. Ridicule is a serious form of discrimination. A mocker despises, scorns, rejects, and marginalises. Scorn is rigorous and does not give in. It opens the door to aggression. If words could kill… But they can’t. Death comes differently: slowly and only hours later. Broken legs, hands with nails driven through them, the battered body fastened to a vertical stake without a seat, arms that keep getting longer and longer, fogged senses, cardiovascular collapse, organ failure.

“Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah!’ Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, ‘Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.’ And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit” (Matthew 27: 45–50).

Silence falls, silence at last…

Photo: jchizhe -

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Peter Johanning
Christian holidays, Good Friday