He gave up his spirit (John 10:18)
This is no trite observation of the end of Jesus’ life – it is vital to know that Jesus really, really died. If this had been some kind of sham death, a pretence foisted on humanity by a few unscrupulous disciples, then everything that followed was a deceitful lie. There was no real resurrection, and there was no truth in the Gospel message. The Church was founded on a piece of play-acting by Jesus and a few close friends. The martyrs have died for nothing, and for 2,000 years women and men have laboured to promote a most hideous untruth, and a mischievous religion.
If Jesus had not died, and then have been raised, all your hymn-singing and prayers mean nothing. You are struggling to preserve a myth, and all your love and sacrificial self-giving is pointless.
This is the line taken by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes about the resurrection, concluding ‘And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.’
Many of the books and treatises written to ‘disprove’ the resurrection are based on the idea that Jesus never really died, but the evidence points the other way. Crucifixion in the heat of the day, the ruthlessness of the Romans, the spear thrust into Jesus’ side, the apparent satisfaction of the Jewish leaders – everything shouts at us, Jesus really died. He gave up his spirit. The one person who was totally man, and also totally God, experienced the full range of human conditions, including death, separated from his father God because he was carrying the burden of our sinfulness.
It is only then that we can fully understand the wonder of the resurrection.
But that part of the story is still far over the visible horizon for the disciples.
For the briefest of moments on Good Friday we can stand with those desperate disciples and try to imagine the darkness they went through.