I started off Good Friday with a leisurely extra cup of coffee and lingered longer than usual before the morning TV news before loping off for an 8:30 a.m. run through the park. It’s good to have time off.
But amidst the leisure, and true on every Good Friday in memory, I can’t help but reflect on the weighty significance of this annual commemoration of the Passion. Even as I jogged this morning, the refrain of a familiar part of the Catholic mass kept reverberating in my thoughts: “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
That refrain is cast as a prayer. I understand the weight of the petition, because the Passion certainly evokes profound feelings of unworthiness in the believer, understanding as the Christian does that Christ’s atonement is an intensely personal matter that the believer could never achieve without the interposition of the Cross.
So then, as I further considered the words “For the sake of his sorrowful Passion have mercy on us . . . ,” I wondered, “Whoa! Why pray for mercy when the mercy has already been done? We should instead cry out in gratitude, “For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, praise and thanksgiving offer we, the beneficiaries of grace.”
I think what holds us to the former rendition of the refrain, though, is the propensity to feel guilt. In the Christian world view, the believer knows that the Savior did what He did because man is unfit and unworthy to deliver himself. So even though we have the spiritual birthright to claim this grace that the Cross affords, and as such are liberated from guilt over our shortcomings, our morbid natures are more attuned to linger over guilt rather than to run free toward grace (Hmmmm . . . , what does that propensity suggest about our natural condition?). So though Christ enabled our deliverance, we remain sadly inclined to sing, “Have mercy on us.”
When I start wondering about great philosophical questions about the faith whose answers lie beyond the bibliolatrers’ scriptural prooftext remedies, my instinct tells me to look up C. S. Lewis, my favorite apologeticist (photo below), who never quotes scripture but always makes sense. I did a keyword search and, sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed. On a C. S. Lewis “Quote of the Day” webpage, I found the following Lewis gem:
“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.”
Lewis always makes me feel enlightened. In this case, he suggests a difference between affliction and sin. Lewis’s words even provide a deeper understanding now of what Isaiah meant when he described the Suffering Servant as one “acquainted with sickness (i.e., affliction).”
So on this Good Friday, if I cry out “For the sake of your sorrowful passion, have mercy on me,” I wrestle with my own guilt-borne affliction, even though I know that such guilt is needless through the power of grace. The creature impulse, though, is hard to die. That’s the part of the believer’s heart that’s overwhelming when we recall the brutality of the Cross, and by design, the part that believers share in Christ’s passion.
Those are disturbing, not comforting thoughts, for Good Friday. And we can only “thank” ourselves for Good Friday, Day 1 of the Crucifixion narrative.
But happily, we can look beyond Day 1 toward Easter Sunday: Ah, yes: THOSE are comforting thoughts and more.
We thank God for Day 3!
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