Good Friday, we witness the execution of Jesus, recognize our ongoing complicity with the powers of death, and are called to enter the Great Silence of all creation in response to the death of its God and Maker.
Mt Pleasant UMC
Little Kanawha District
How did He do it?
How did He survive in this land…His land…the land in which He lived and grew…the land through which He walked and taught…the land many today call the Fifth Gospel…land so dichotomous…from the extremes of the arid, sweltering, wind-crafted, and seemingly inhospitable Judean Desert with the Dead Sea and Qumran to the lush, fertile, and thriving Jezreel and Kidron Valleys with their centuries-old olive trees and the Sea of Galilee region with its Peter’s Fish and the grassy and flowering Mount of the Beatitudes? This was His land, a land through which He walked in the flimsiest of sandals. It is no wonder that as a sign of cleanliness and hospitality, scripture recounts numerous instances of foot-washings for those entering a house, especially prior to “breaking bread together.” As reported in John 13:14-17, Jesus Himself modeling servanthood washed the feet of His disciples while saying, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
How did He do it?
How did He find the strength and the stamina to traverse the mountainous terrain not just dotted with but comprised primarily of boulders and trek over dusty, rudimentary roads and paths containing jagged, ankle-breaking rocks?
“How did He do it?” I kept asking myself.
“How did He do it?” became my mind’s recurring question as I was both blessed and humbled to walk in the Holy Land where Jesus had walked…to walk down the steep and slippery Hosanna Trail from the top of the Mount of Olives to the level Garden of Gethsemane…to navigate the narrow, shops and shoppers-filled Via Dolorosa with its uneven stones worn down by thousands and thousands of feet over the thousands and thousands of years since that first Good Friday.
For the most part His feet were His mode of transportation. It wasn’t the great distances He traveled nor the dichotomous landscapes He traversed during His three-year ministry that caused me to think, “How did He do it?” it was the rocks, the stones themselves.
Rocks, stones everywhere rocks, stones.
When I should have been looking up, I found myself constantly looking down imagining Him walking beside me on the rocks and the stones and asking Him, not myself, “How did You do it?” Not far from my mind’s ear at times such as these was Luke’s recounting of Christ’s triumphant arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “When He came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!’ He replied, ‘I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (19:37-40).
With rocks, stones everywhere rocks, stones, I fully expected that while I was among them, they would.
And you know they actually did; in their own way, they do.
They speak, they teach, they remind us of Who God is. As Robert J. Matthews, Dean of Religious Education for Brigham Young University affirms, “The words rock and stone, referring to the prime elements in ancient foundations, are used in the scriptures as metaphors signifying strength, steadiness, and durability. The prophets used these metaphors in a variety of ways, conveying an impression of the unwavering character of God. Moses spoke of the God of Israel as a Rock (Deut. 32:3–4); and David wrote, ‘The Lord is my rock, and my fortress’ (2 Sam. 22:2-3). Isaiah spoke particularly of the Lord as ‘a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation’ (Isa. 28:16.); and Paul explained that the faithful saints belong to the household of God ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone’ (Eph. 2:20.).”
Jesus the Christ knew. Jesus “the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone and is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:11-12) knew, knew when He entered Jerusalem to the “loud Hosannas” (John 12:13) that, as He had prayed to His Father, “The hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify You” (John 17:1); the hour had come for Him to fulfill His purpose on earth. No longer was the relevant question “HOW did He do it?” it had transitioned to “WHY did He do it?” with the latter answering the former.
Still the rocks played a role in the answer His crucifixion and death proclaimed to the world. The rocks ushered Him bound up the hill to Caiaphas’s house, where now the Church of St. Peter stands, while Peter nearby stood next to a fire denying the Lord “the third time as the rooster began to crow” (John 18:24-27). The rocks caught His precious blood as it drained from wounds received during His vicious and malicious scourging ordered by Pontius Pilate (John 19:1). The rocks some lined at angles, some stationed in pooling water, some defining small inclines moving at times from darkness into light echoed thudding sounds on the Via Dolorosa as He carried and fell under the weight of His 300-pound cross. And “the place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (John 19:17) waited for His cross with Him nailed to it to be stood in its rocks where He “was to be crucified…with two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle” (John 19:18). Those same rocks at “about three in the afternoon heard Jesus cry out in a loud voice [words also spoken in Psalm 22:1] ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?’ and after He cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open” (Matthew 27:45-52). And finally, the stones witnessed and proclaimed the resurrected Messiah as the Father glorified the Son by raising Him from the dead in spite of His being buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in “a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid in a garden at the place where He was crucified” (John 19:21).
Jesus knew. Jesus knew and knows everything.
When He entered Jerusalem, He knew. He knew why He “the Word, became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14), and He knew the price His being “the one and only Son, Who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father” (John 1:14, 18) would be when “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him” (John 1: 11).
When He entered the Garden of Gethsemane, He knew. The rock where now stands the Basilica of the Agony did not, could not, as perhaps He would have wished, wrap itself around Him, could not, did not wipe away “His sweat that was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44) as He prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42) ; but “an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him” (Luke 22:43).
“How did He do it; why did He do it?” I continue asking.
“Do I do it; could I do it?” I asked myself as I knelt in front of the rock of agony; as I gingerly with shaking fingers reached out my right hand and touched the rock on which He told His Father, “Thy will be done”; and as I humbly bowed my head and sobbed. I was actually here touching the rock upon which my totally divine and totally human Lord had leaned and prayed to God the night before He was crucified. I now had a physical, not just a spiritual connection with Him. His agony was now my agony.
I saw many rocks while in the Holy Land, rocks that speak and teach and remind us of God, but none proclaimed for me the “old, old story of Jesus and His love” more than the rock of agony.
Only the rock of agony forced me to ask introspectively, “Do I do it?” – Do I totally and completely trust and surrender everything including myself to God as did Christ when He said to His Father in prayer the night before He was crucified, “Thy will be done”?
Only the rock of agony which I so wanted and was so blessed to see and touch forced me to ask introspectively, “Could I do it?” – Could I, as had the thought of which caused Jesus to “sweat drops of blood,” live eternity in isolation from God and His glory as Christ knew He must when “He descended into hell”?
The image of the rock of agony will forever remain in my mind’s eye as a guidepost that Jesus “took the painful steps that led to the cross – on our behalf; that as Isaiah wrote in 53:5 centuries earlier: ‘He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed’; and that Jesus walked for us.”