Heather Davis Nelson, M.A., is a writer, counselor, and retreat speaker, regularly blogging at "hidden glory" (heatherdavisnelson.com). She has been a featured writer at The Gospel Coalition, iBelieve.com, and OnFaith with articles on grief, human trafficking, body image, and mentoring, as well as a contributing author to the Journal of Biblical Counseling. She and her husband, Seth, and their fraternal twin daughters live in southeastern Virginia where he is a pastor, and she is a counselor. She studied at Wheaton College (B.A.) and Westminster Theological Seminary (M.A.). She loves coffee, reading, front porch conversations, the beach, and story time with her daughters. Through over eight years of counseling, she has walked alongside many through questions of faith, anxiety and depression, relational conflict, grief, and discovering identity and calling. She is passionate about connecting the hope of a Redeemer to the broken fissures of life.
I had skimmed over the verse countless times in the 30+ years I've read and meditated and studied this familiar account. Good Friday is the time to read the crucifixion story. A story of horror turned beautiful. Yet if you're like me, too often I jump to the "turned beautiful" part without staying with the horror of what Jesus endured. It's uncomfortable to sit with the events that culminated in the most gruesome of deaths on a Roman cross. But this week - this Holy Week - asks us to do just that. To sit. To see. To hear. Because in the horror, we are saved. We are deserving of all that the King of Glory endured innocently. And we who bear his name are called to endure similar suffering for the sake of love. Love enters into the messy, the broken, even the so-gruesome-you-can't-bear-to-hear-it and Love takes it. Love endures. It does not run away. It stays. It shows up.
What feels impossible for you to endure today (and yet you must because of Love)? How can Good Friday become truly "good" for you today? What brokenness do you run from in your own heart and in the lives of those around you?
In my calling as a counselor, I often sit with those who have endured stories of abuse that are too difficult to name. And to think that what I have a hard time hearing is what they lived through. Well, that causes you to pause. To pray. To beg for redemption, for healing, for a Justice to make it all right.
On Good Friday, we are given just that. Not only in the cross, but in the events leading up to the cross. Here's the verse that stopped me in my tracks this morning (from Matthew 27:27):
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.
Do you know how many soldiers are in a battalion? I didn't either, so I checked the footnote and saw that a battalion is "a tenth of a Roman legion; usually about 600 men." 600 men. Quite different than movies who portray this portion of the scene with a couple soldiers kicking Jesus around. That's bad enough, but this has an arena quality to it. 600 soldiers. That's a very full auditorium hall. And what did they gather to do? Well, read on:
And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
Utterly shameful. Shameful if it's an audience of one, but for these horrors to happen before an arena-size audience of 600? Shame magnified. Shame too great for words. Twice he was stripped of his clothes. In addition to the emotional abuse of this mockery, there was the physical abuse of being "crowned" with thorns and beat on the head with a reed. What is striking is Jesus' response. Nothing. The one who was God incarnate - who could have called down fire from heaven to devour these fools - stayed still and endured. That is the miracle. The miracle that turns bad into good, abuse into redemption, mockery into honor.
Centuries before, a prophet called Isaiah wrote about this and puts words to the what and the why of all that Jesus endured on "Good" Friday:
Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. ...
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth ...
Because Jesus did not open his mouth when enduring abuse, we can open our mouths and beg for healing and redemption. Healing from our own abuse and from the ways we have abused and oppressed others through our sin - through our brokenness seeking false healings.
In the place of your abuse, there is healing. Because he took the shame for you.
In the place of my sin, there is peace. Because he carried the guilt for me.
In the places where you and I have been silenced, our voice is restored. Because his was silenced this Good Friday.
So go. Walk as one who is healed, who is at peace, who can speak up and speak out and speak of darkness turned beautiful on this most good of Fridays.