Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Love One Another: Reflections on Race, Power, and Privilege”
By Brian Hollingsworth, Partners in Health and Wholeness Intern
Good Friday — Isaiah 52:13-53:12
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him – so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals – so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Good Friday arrives, and our eyes are finally opened.
The suffering servant is before us, and what we did not want to see, what perhaps we did not yet fully understand – and what we certainly did not want to acknowledge – now stands before us in confounding clarity, and it cannot be ignored.
Startled and astonished, we grapple with the shock of what we now see and struggle to understand:
We expected a king; we received one like a root out of dry ground – seemingly holding no promise at all. Having no form of majesty, one acquainted with suffering and infirmity, even ugly and despised – we almost cannot bear to look at him.
We are confronted with our prejudices, our ignorance of those who do not meet our expectations, our false standards of beauty and worth.
We wonder aloud why such suffering must be endured. Surely the servant has done something wrong, surely God has struck him down and turned away from him because of his own doings, but no: It is on account of us. Our infirmities and diseases, our transgressions and iniquities, our going astray.
We have played a part in the injustices we see. Uncomfortable, we consider the ways our security and wellbeing has come at the expense of others.
In our anger and in our astonishment at the injustice of it all, we want to cry out: “Stop! Stand up for yourself! Resist! Fight back! Save yourself!” And yet we are met with silence. If there are cries of resistance, we cannot hear them.
Our pride and often-violent predispositions drown out the voices of those who suffer in silence all around us.
More than anything, it is the mystery of it all that confounds us. How can such suffering and humiliation lead to exaltation? How can such anguish bring forth light? How can it be the will of the Lord to allow such pain to exist? Why does it have to be this way?
In reluctant humility, we acknowledge our ignorance. For all that has been made clear to us, for all that we believe in and hold dear, we recognize that there is still more that we do not know or understand, still questions that are yet to be answered.
It is Friday, and for now we do not know that Sunday is coming. Rather, today we stand shaken and bewildered before God’s suffering servant, before all the sufferings and injustices of the world, and before ourselves with the staggering knowledge of our own responsibility – both in perpetuating injustice, and somehow, by the will and mystery of God, in helping end it.
Prayer: God of mystery, we acknowledge that we do not understand your ways. On this Friday, we confess the part we play in the sufferings of your world, we grieve for the pain that is before us and within us, and mourn the lack of justice for so many of your people. May our shock and astonishment spur us toward action and hope for a better world. Amen.