One of my favorite movies ever is Air Force One with Harrison Ford. I love action films, Harrison is a fox, Crazy Gary Oldman is hella talented, and there’s a soft spot in my heart for the me that wanted to be president once upon a time. (I was watching a lot of The West Wing at the time, you see; Aaron Sorkin can make anyone want to be president.) Judge all you want, but I love the movie, and there’s one scene in particular that gets me every time. Crazy Gary Oldman and his band of Cold War leftovers have successfully hijacked Air Force One, and Oldman is beating the crap out of President Harrison Ford for every capitalist wrong ever done to Mother Russia. Ford is tied up with duct tape and can’t fight back, and his oh-so-loyal men get to watch him get pummeled while (being bound themselves) they get to do nothing at all. It’s a very short moment (sorry, I couldn’t find it on YouTube), but one that always makes my stomach clench, seeing everyone helplessly watch their beloved president get stomped on by this power-hungry zealot.
You see, Reader, I am of the personality type which is loyal as a friggin’ Saint Bernard. If I decide that I like you enough to claim you as a friend (which is, in itself, a long and gradated process), I will be there for you until Doomsday itself. This doesn’t always go well for me, but God help the person who messes with one of my friends—I have been and will be bodyguard, fixer, support system, guide, and threat. I will move the earth itself for you. That’s just who I am.
How much more, then, for this Man Who is higher than any president, higher than any friend? How much more loyalty to the One Who sought me first, Who defined true loyalty and love before ever I understood the concepts? Even though I often balk at His requests, when push comes to shove I will be there, if only because He has always been there for me.
And yet, in the most excruciating hours of His life, He was alone.
I saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion once, in the cinema when it first came out. I wasn’t yet a believer, but it still shook me to the core. To see that amount of pain, that sadistic cruelty that I could not stop, that no human should have to endure—I haven’t watched the film since. Once was enough. Even the part of me that understands perfectly well that it’s an actor on a screen who was just fine two minutes later makes the connection to the original, when it was not an actor, and He was not just fine. He was killed—finally, brutally, shamefully. Jesus died, and all of the love in all of time—mine included—would not save Him.
Last week I wrote of the anger I felt in my unbelief, that this God should make this my fault, my problem. This week I write after having accepted this story as mine, and this week I admit that every Holy Week, every Good Friday, I feel unutterably helpless.
There’s a story about one of the medieval kings (I think it was Charlemagne, actually) who was talking about the Crucifixion and the fact that it was so important, and he followed by saying, “But if I and my soldiers had been there, we would have righted the wrong.” I understand this. If I had been there, I would have beaten the Roman soldiers senseless rather than let them continue to torture my Friend—and I’d’ve missed the whole point.
God does not need me to save Him. It’s quite the other way ’round. At any time He could not only have beaten back the soldiers, but utterly obliterated all of Jerusalem if He wanted to. My petty fistfights are nothing to His power over whole universes—He chose this path. Today, Good Friday, I internalize His pain, I weep that such things were experienced, however you want to explain it theologically. But I’m learning this it is not mine to choose God’s path, not mine to protect Him when He sees all of history and I see only today, not mine to say that preventing the suffering of One justifies erasing the glorious celebration of Easter when the earth itself sang of its redemption. We call this day Good Friday, not because we rejoice in pain but because we see beyond that pain to the unbelievable return of the One stronger than soldiers, than crosses, than death itself. We see this God Who loves us enough to be this kind of loyal, Who goes to Hell and back for us, for His beloved. This God will never need me—but He wants me, pursues me, is crazy in love with this broken creation of His whom He sees can be made whole again, if only He will let the soldiers believe He is bound by their man-made ropes of short-sighted arrogance.
Blessings on your Good Friday, Reader, and may it lead you to an Easter overwhelmed by this realization that we are so deeply, incredibly loved by a God strong enough to be God, so we don’t have to.
Then Jesus said to them, “This very night all of you will run away and leave me, for the scripture says, “God will kill the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised to life, I will go to Galilee ahead of you.” Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!” (Matthew 26:31-33, GNT)