Well, it’s Good Friday, and if I am honest with you, sometimes I wish we could go from celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday directly to celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday… and skipping everything in between.

But isn’t this true for many of us?  Isn’t it common for us to want to avoid and skip over the cross: to avoid the suffering and injustice that is constantly taking over the lives of those around us?

And yet, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be resurrection people, living lives here and now that proclaim the promise of new life to both our neighbors and ourselves.  And to avoid and skip over the pain and suffering of those around us and even within our own lives is to choose to not accept and proclaim new, everlasting life.  For we know that we cannot have and experience the resurrection without first experiencing what comes before it.

And so those joyful shouts of “Hosannas” we shouted as we waved our palm branches this past Sunday have now become angry shouts of “Crucify!”

But this is life, isn’t it? There have and will be times in our lives when we think we are just about out of the wilderness; just about ready to see and experience new life… But just as we begin waving our palm branches and shouting “Hosanna! Salvation has come!” – things unexpectedly take a downhill turn. Those we trust the most may turn on us and betray us, the crowds around us might spit on us and mock us, and what looks like our escape from captivity sometimes ends up being the very thing that captures us and leads us on our own painful journey on a dirty and bumpy road through Jerusalem.

But it is in these times when we need the cross the most. It is in these times when we realize that we – indeed – need a God who was not only resurrected but who also walked a similar path. That we need a God who knows what it’s like to experience broken relationships, grieve the loss of loved ones, watch those closest to him look directly in the face of injustice, and be betrayed by friends and ridiculed by crowds. And when things get really dark, we need a God who knows what it is like to feel completely and utterly alone and abandoned – even by his own Father, even by God – to the point where he cried out in his final moments of anguish and pain: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When we skip over and avoid the cross, we miss out on a God who is with us in the flesh, walking alongside us as we walk what may sometimes be a long, lonely road.

But to skip out on the cross also causes us to miss out on a radical and bold Jesus we are all called to follow.  For, it was Jesus’ loud, subversive voice that challenged injustice and proclaimed on behalf of the “least of these” that got him into trouble in the first place and led him to be silenced on the cross.

But – although those who nailed Jesus there did so to suppress him, and after Jesus breathed his last breath, the temple curtain tore in two, the earth shook, and the rocks split.

Death did not have the final say that dark night.

And after a few days, we will realize that Jesus’ voice was shouting and proclaiming louder than ever before as his broken and bloody body hung silently and still on the cross.

Brothers, sisters, siblings: we need the cross.  

So as we enter Good Friday, let us follow Jesus toward it – remembering – as we do – that he is right alongside us as we take every step.  Because when we do follow him, we might be overwhelmed at how much we really do need this loud, radical, and personal Jesus of the cross that we too often miss – the One who will soon lead us past the cross and onto the empty tomb.

  • When were some of your own times of suffering and pain where you’ve encountered Jesus alongside with you?  Did you see Jesus in the midst of those times or after you moved through those times and looked back on them?
  • How have you seen Jesus present in the midst of all the suffering around us in our country and world that is taking place today?
  • How are you helping your youth look to the cross and see this radical Jesus challenging unjust systems?
  • How are you helping (or can you help) your youth see Jesus’ presence in the midst of suffering and hope in new life that comes after the cross?

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.