Good Friday: a subject for poetry?

Unfortunately, for Auden, who says that, ‘Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible… Poems about Good Friday, have of course been written, but none of them will do’ (W H Auden – A Certain World) there have been poems about that day and for many, they ‘will do’. It is not called ‘Good’ Friday for nothing. Christ’s crucifixion is prophesied throughout the Bible, creating probably the greatest literary foreshadowing of an event in any collection of books and poetry plays a key role in foretelling the saviour to come.

Good Friday is then a subject for poetry and the image which acts as its motif in the Bible is the lamb who was slain. Old Testament Jews would buy a one year old lamb, unblemished, and lay a hand on its head to confess sins over it; symbolically transferring the sins onto the lamb. Then at the first Passover (Exodus 12), which Jews today celebrate, a lamb’s blood was painted on the doors of God’s people so that the Angel of Death would pass over them. Jesus is our New Testament lamb, the wrath of God taken upon him in death, so that death passes over us and we may have eternal life (John 3.16). In John 19.14, John points out that Jesus was killed at around the time of the Passover – the disciple makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is our Passover lamb. Then in Corinthians, ‘for Christ our passover lamb has been sacrificed’ (5.7).

The following poem, from the book of the Bible ‘Isaiah’, foretells the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

Isaiah 53

New International Version (NIV)

53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

If you’re interested in finding out about the evidence for the crucifixion, Timothy Keller’s sermon on Matthew 27. 45-56 is on iTunes. Or have a look at his book, The Reason for God.