Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash

What’s so good about Good Friday? 

Rev. Alan R. Rudnick

April 19, 2019

Good Friday? How about Bad Friday, Black Friday, or Depressing Friday? If this is the day in which we remember Jesus suffering, bleeding, and dying on the cross, what is so good about it? 

For many Christians, the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” changed the way we think about Christ’s suffering. The graphic and bloody movie was a stirring portrayal of Jesus’ last hours. For some, Good Friday induces feelings of guilt, depression, and even remorse. Christians, on this day, truly feel a sense of sadness.

On this day of sadness, we wonder: Where did we get the term, “Good Friday?” There is no clear answer. Some sources reference a German phrase, Gottes Freitag, which means “God’s Friday.” In Anglo languages, the word “good” and “God” have been mixed together for the English-speaking world over hundreds of years. For instance, the surname “Goodspeed” derives from “Godspeed,” which comes from the expression, “God speed (with you).” The expression, “goodbye” came from the phrase, “God be with ye (you).” Despite the origins of the phrases, we don’t really feel “good” on Good Friday.

Are we meant to feel guilty and depressed on Good Friday? We don’t feel “good” about Christ suffering. Are we meant to feel the pressure to be grateful for Jesus’ torment?

Are we meant to feel guilty and depressed on Good Friday? We don’t feel “good” about Christ suffering. Are we meant to feel the pressure to be grateful for Jesus’ torment?

Many years ago, I was preparing a Good Friday service sermon, and I wrestled with these questions until I came across the words of the Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College, John Witvliet. Witvliet encourages us to be in touch with this self-awareness and wrestling with the darkness of the day but leads us down another path of Good Friday:

Contrary to rumor, the church’s observance of Good Friday, which is often accompanied by a decrescendo of light, is not primarily designed to induce a crescendo of guilt. You and I may have a lot of that to deal with—and dealing with it may be a very redemptive thing. But make no mistake: We gather on Good Friday not to wallow in guilt, but to announce that sin and guilt have been atoned for, conquered, healed, addressed, dealt with once and for all, in heaven and on earth through the blood of the cross…the story is filled with sorrow and shame and agony. Indispensably so. But this is no funeral for Jesus. We know how the story turns out.

                (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/marchweb-only/23-32.0.html?start=2)

Being in touch with our emotions and having self-awareness is the work of the disciple of Jesus. Many individuals in the days leading up to and including the hours of the Passion of Jesus are fraught with dealing with their “Kübler-Ross” stages of grief.

Judas experienced denial: “Surely not I, Lord” (Matthew 26:25) Peter struck a servant’s ear with a knife at the arrest of Jesus in John 18:10. This was anger. Jesus himself perhaps bordered on bargaining, “Father take this cup away from me…” Mary Magdalene no doubt felt depression with the words, “Tell me where you have taken my Lord?” (John 20:13-15). And the final stage of grief, acceptance by Jesus: “Not my will, but yours Father.”

In every situation, each individual experienced the work of God’s redemption in different ways in the days of Jesus. Some struggled with the reality, others denied their responsibility, and others sought deep sadness. Their experience is our experience. We must embrace these emotional contexts as our own.

I have preached many sermons to congregations that we are an Easter people in a Good Friday world.

Sit for a moment in that reality.

As an Easter people, we are called into a world full of inequality and prejudice. As an Easter people, we are called into a world of bitterness and pain. As an Easter people, we are called into a world of retribution. Sitting at that moment is the worshipful work of Good Friday.

We are not meant to embrace overwhelming guilt on Good Friday, but are invited to dive into and embrace the transformative power of Jesus on the cross. We read in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV) On Good Friday, we do not stand in condemnation but accept salvation for what God has done – for us. God did not want to doom us but instead free us into an abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10.

We are not meant to embrace overwhelming guilt on Good Friday, but are invited to dive into and embrace the transformative power of Jesus on the cross.

On Good Friday, do not be compelled to drown in guilt or remorse, but to declare our solidarity with Jesus. We proclaim our solidarity in Jesus’ powerful act of loving and selfless work of freedom from sin. May you on Good Friday commune with God in the embrace of our emotive response for Jesus’ sacrifice, but also claim indemnity as sons and daughters of God in the cross.

The Rev. Alan Rudnick is an American Baptist minister, author and Th.D. student at La Salle University, Philadelphia. He is a former member of the board of directors for American Baptist Home Mission Societies, Board of General Ministries and Mission Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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