What an unusual name to give this day. I know I’m not the first to make that observation, nor will I be the last, but if we read the accounts of this day that we find in the Gospels, it can be said to be anything but good. The stories are of heartache, violence, power struggles, and execution. A mother loses her first-born son, and many followers lose the very thing they had hoped in for several years. For us to call this day good seems strange.
Maybe that strangeness is lost on us, however. Especially us Baptists, and perhaps other Protestants and Evangelicals, are eager to get to Easter. We want to proclaim the resurrection of Christ, and so while we may remember Jesus’ death on Good Friday, we still have our eye on Sunday.
Let’s linger, however, for just a moment.
Historically that is what the church did on Good Friday. The resurrection wasn’t mentioned. Listen to the last words of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, a piece first performed 287 years ago today.
We sit down in tears
And call to thee in the tomb:
Rest softly, softly rest!
Rest, ye exhausted limbs!
Your grave and tombstone
Shall for the unquiet conscience
Be a comfortable pillow
And the soul’s resting place
In utmost bliss the eyes slumber there.
How, then, if for centuries Good Friday was celebrated without mention of the resurrection can it be called good? Nothing about it seems to be good at all. Wouldn’t it make more sense for it to be called Bad Friday and Good Sunday?
On Friday the Jewish leaders turned Jesus over to the Roman’s to be killed. Pilate, in his sentencing of Jesus, chose to label him as the King of the Jews, not a wannabe king, communicating, “This is what happens to all would-be messiahs.” Power struggles of the first century Palestine led to a brutal, unjust, public execution of the one on whom many hopes rested.
Is there any good in that?
Jesus took the brunt of what our sinful selves could throw at him. He bore our sins, not in some figurative or transactional sense, but in the sense that he received the worst that sinful man could throw at him. He suffered an unjust, phony trial, his own followers acted as if they didn’t know who he was, and the crowds that less than a week ago were welcoming him as a king were crying now for his execution.
Jesus received the full force of sinful humanity.
Even so, he forgave. From the cross Jesus asked the Father to forgive us for we don’t know what we are doing.
Jesus exposed our worldly ways for what they are: thinly veiled, selfish attempts for power, prestige, and pride, but instead of calling down legions of angels to defend him and to battle on his behalf, he dismantled our violent ways and expectations by forgiving. By practicing the Father’s will, Jesus undid our homicidal world and in its place established the Kingdom of Heaven.
We humans did the worst imaginable to Jesus, and Jesus forgave us.
For that reason, Friday is Good.