The last year I shopped Black Friday, Mom and I sat in a parking lot for two and a half hours, gridlocked, trying to leave. Our bargains, over which we’d shared exhilarated gloating, sat in their bags, looking less impressive as the minutes passed. All in all, the madness just didn’t seem worth the money we’d saved.
In fact, in my memory, only one Black Friday has ever mattered in the long run. That Friday, I found something I not only wanted but needed, something worth all the effort and madness of life.
I went early, drawn by the promise of something new. You know that feeling, when everything seems old and failing—the end of Fall, when the trees have stopped shedding color and everything is just brown. As Winter creeps in, the promise of new brightens gray skies. Ironically, the small crowd assembled, waiting for beginning, seemed less than thrilled to be gathered there, despite all the long foretold promises about the day. This place boasted no long lines, no glossy posters, no extra bonus for the first arrivals. Everyone would get the same deal, early or late, the best deal offered in a long time.
I looked around and noticed a woman, weary, and crying. A man stood next to her, sheltering her protectively, his arm around her shoulder. He wore a horrified, stunned expression, as though love had just been jerked from him suddenly. Loss. I felt it. The woman leaned into him, her skirt billowing in the breeze, and I shifted uncomfortably, looking away. Grief ran down her cheeks, desperately, and she made no effort to hide it.
Several other women gathered there, and I noticed that they too seemed shell-shocked, tired, deeply sad. What a place, so…dark. We waited. Of course, a few men worked steadily nearby, preparing. They seemed unusually satisfied, boisterous even, laughing, sharing jokes, taunting each other as they positioned, banged, hoisted.
At first, I stood blind, not really seeing their work. How much of life happens when I look but don’t see? I stood in the crowd of few, waiting, because I needed something. Deeply. I watched the other people, soaking in their grief, trying to avoid the intensity of feeling it. Then, I heard what had not registered before. Listening but not really hearing, breathing but not really living, I had missed it. A terrible groan, laced with pain, came from the direction where those men worked. Suddenly their laughter felt like mockery, bitterness, apathy. How could they not hear, not care, not stop?
Turning, I saw the wood—two solid, heavy beams.
The woman behind me sobbed.
The men had nailed the wood together with iron spikes, a cross. And on them they’d nailed a man. Her son. An iron spike jutted from his feet, one nailed on top of the other. In his wrists, more spikes, and blood dripping, running down. On his head, a thick wreath of thorns, more blood. So much blood. The thorns pressed into his skin as though someone had beaten them in with a club. I watched in horror as he tried to lift himself on the spikes, gasping for breath. Slowly, he suffocated. He gulped, heaving, just to say one thing to the woman and the man who held her: “Woman, here is your son,” and then, “This is your mother.”
We stood on a hill. A lonely, ugly hill that smelled of death. Two other men had been nailed to crosses and hoisted next to him, criminals, guilty. One seemed to be mocking him, but the other seemed humbled to be there, dying beside him. I lost track of time. This man, innocent, loving even nailed to wood beams and bleeding, hung on a cross for me, on a black, awful Friday. So that I might receive the deal of a lifetime.
“My God, my God…why have you left me?” He had used a painful breath to say it, the hard thing I feel when I’m gripped with need, lost in pain, too blind to see that He is everything. In that moment, He felt the depths of my despair, the futility of all of my searching, the darkness of all of my selfish choices, every step I’d ever walked away from God. Funny, but I always think that God has left me, forsaken me, when it’s really I who have stepped away.
I fell to my knees, cheeks wet. This man had lived his entire life walking with God, never choosing His own way, never exalting Himself. But on that ugly wood, He bore the heavy weight of all my selfish rebellion. It should be me up there, suffocating, lonely, mocked, dying. This then, is love. He went willingly, in power, the man who could’ve commanded the angels to rip the earth to shreds, all holy power wrapped in flesh.
He asked for something to drink, and they lifted a bit of sponge up to him on some sort of plant stalk. The sponge dripped with something smelling of brine. I shuddered, pinned to the spot, watching the beaten man press his bloody lips against the sponge. We’d been there for hours. Hours of suffering, hours of the gathered grieving.
“I am so sorry,” I whispered, but the words fell in the dust, inadequate. No words could ever express what I felt, what depth of sadness for my own sin, what heights of love for this man who loved me, surrendered everything for me, while I still sinned, blind, deaf. He taught me to see, to hear, on that hill. One black Friday.
The crude sign above his head hailed him a king, this beaten, dying man. Finally, mercifully, He lifted himself once more, determined, pain etched into the sharp angles of his face. “It is finished,” He said, looking at me. I saw no condemnation in his eyes, no anger, no resentment. I saw only love like no other love, deep with knowledge of me, and victory, power. Choosing the moment, He surrendered all life, leaving the beaten, bloody body an empty shell. The woman fell in the dirt, crumpled, her son gone. God’s son, dead. For me.
Then the earthquake started. Violently, the earth shook, the promise that all of this had been more than a death. The men, the ones who had laughed at his pain, now stood stunned, looking at the ruined body on that awful cross.
“Surely, this man was the son of God!” One of them cried, his hand rising to stop the words tumbling from his lips, his knees hitting the blood soaked dirt. Both of us, broken, sharing the same thought, “What have I done?”
It cost Him everything, the dying, on a black, ugly Friday. So that I could have the deal of a lifetime: forgiveness, full and free, all grace.