The Goal of Good Friday: Reflections on Isaiah 52:13-53:12

It is obvious that the church has focused its liturgical energies too much on the middle of this poem, rather than on its beginning and end. The suffering of the servant has been maximized while the work of that suffering, its efficacious work of righteousness, has been minimized. As a result, we have worshipped in the ways I described, pounding nails in darkened sanctuaries, flagellating ourselves hymnically and psychologically, trying to join Jesus in his death rather than receive from him our new life. For Christians there is only one Suffering Servant. One need not apply for that job, because it has been filled for all time.

So then how should we worship on Good Friday? Suffering and death are sad things, and chastened liturgy and hymn are surely not out of place. But the goal of Good Friday is not to suffer with Jesus, to become like him on his cross. As the servant of Isaiah, who is apparently a portion of the people Israel, now cleansed and purified by exile, has suffered for the whole people, so for Christians Jesus has suffered for them, offering to them new life, opening up for them new hope of joy and peace. And for Christians that offering will take on fresh power and joy in two days' time at Easter.

I urge you to think carefully about just what you are doing this Good Friday. I shudder to remember those dark Fridays of my liturgical past. Remember this year that "the righteous one will make many righteous," not "the suffering one will make many suffer."

12/2/2022 9:10:32 PM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.