Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Good Friday is where the rubber hits the road. It’s where we separate the women from the girls – the boys from the men – the shallow-water sailors from the squids. Because for those who believe that we have each been saved from ourselves by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, today is the hardest day of the year.
The question is why such a bad day is called “Good Friday.” The standard answer is that Good Friday is good because the death of Christ, as terrible as it was, led to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, which brought new life to those who believe. But “Good” Friday is actually known by seemingly more appropriate names in other parts of the world, including Sorrowful or Suffering Friday, Long Friday, Holy Friday, Black Friday, Great Friday and Silent Friday. Actually, the word “Friday” never appears in the Bible. The only day called by a given name in scripture is the seventh day, which is called “the Sabbath.” Thus, the term “Good Friday,” is a relatively late invention. Historians tell us that early Christians initially commemorated Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in one festival, called the “Pascha” (which is Greek for “Passover”). They do not suggest that Jesus’ passion took place within a specific time frame – with Jesus sharing a meal with his friends on Thursday, being arrested sometime Thursday night, tortured, tried, and crucified on Friday, and rising on Sunday morning. But we follow a specific sequence during one “holy” week so that we can experience the passion of our Lord as an escalating, emotional journey, and give ourselves a chance to symbolically walk with Jesus as he blazes the trail to our salvation.
It’s a very hard walk. We would not be human if we were able to sit and listen to the story of Jesus’s arrest, torture, humiliation and crucifixion without feeling distressed, if not downright sick. And, unlike other services, Good Friday is almost unrelenting. It seems to be all about suffering. Even our Hebrew scripture graphically describes one who suffers on God’s behalf as “despised…rejected, stricken, struck down, afflicted, oppressed” – as “cut off, crushed, and anguished.” Imaging ourselves enduring – or participating in – such abuse is extremely difficult. So, why do it? Does our Christian faith require us to be masochists?
The reading we just heard from the letter to the Hebrews suggests otherwise. Because in it we, like the earliest Christians, are given a reason for enduring the painful journey that is Good Friday. “We do not,” the writer says, “have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are …[Like us] Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears…[Like us] he learned…through what he suffered.” By his suffering, Jesus developed a deep connection with our human nature and Good Friday is our opportunity to explore that connection and use it to develop a closer relationship him. This is the least we can do for the one who chose to fully experience a human life simply so that he can walk with us in ours.
Good Friday provides us with a second opportunity as well – the opportunity to consider what it means to truly trust in God the way Jesus did. On Palm Sunday we read the passion according to the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus wondered aloud if God had deserted him, but the Jesus of John’s gospel is different. The Jesus in this gospel is a man who is assured and even at ease with his fate, a Jesus who verbally spars with Pontius Pilate without fear, who fully accepts the cup that he is to drink, and who fulfills the scriptures even as he dies. It is a Jesus who fully trusts in the Lord – and paves the way for us to do the same.
We are asked to do this with joy. That is perhaps the hardest lesson of Good Friday- not only to accept that it is through the blood of Jesus and the curtain of his flesh that we can approach God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” but also that we must do it with gratitude – that we must face the horror of his death and then thank God for it. That is the great paradox of our faith, as well as the key to surviving this Sorrowful, Suffering, Long, Holy, Black, Great, and Silent day; without death there is no resurrection, and without death there is no eternal life. Trust in God. Easter is coming. AMEN.