What’s So Good about Good Friday?

canstockphoto25039066One semester in graduate school I taught Beginning Hebrew to master’s level students at seminary. On this same morning, Good Friday, I woke up in a cloudy mood, and I didn’t know why.

At first I dismissed it as the last day of a long week, having to get up early enough to shower, put on a coat and tie, get 3-yr.-old Angela up, fed, dressed, and dropped off at day care in time to be in my classroom a few minutes before the 8:00 a.m. class started.

It seemed that the whole class was dreary, or maybe that was just me projecting my mood on the students. Of course, they had to try to stay interested in Hebrew verb conjugations at 8 a.m. on a Friday, so maybe that’s how they normally felt.

Because I knew few people were as interested in Hebrew verb conjugations as I was (that is probably the nerdiest sentence I have ever written), I always tried to keep things light, joking and quipping with the class whenever possible.

But I wasn’t much fun that day.

We plodded through the class together, and when 8:50 finally came they started gathering their things so that they could bolt for their 9:00 classes as soon as I said, “See you Tuesday.” (There were no classes on Mondays.)

I just stood before them, unable to say anything.

Things got real quiet as they waited for me to dismiss class. Finally, feelings coalesced into words:

“I don’t know why we call this “Good” Friday. This is the day we crucified Jesus; what’s good about that?”

I paused. “Sunday’s good. Friday sucks.”

There, I said it. That’s what I had been feeling all morning.

“Have a good Easter. See you on Tuesday.”

I know theologically why we call today Good Friday, but it has never set well with me. Every year during Holy Week I get in a mood; there’s just an underlying sadness that’s ever-present, even as I’m writing my Easter sermon and thinking happy thoughts.

I don’t know, maybe this will get me into some deep weeds doctrinally with some people, but so much of our doctrine is narcissistic anyway that somebody ought to challenge it.

It’s just that it was all so unnecessary, that’s what is so sad. If we had just listened to him, if we had just trusted him enough to do what he said, this could have actually have been a good Friday.

I know it’s common to say that Jesus came to die for our sins, but I don’t believe that, not the way a lot of people mean it. I believe Jesus came to do whatever it took to save us from our sins, to save us from our addiction to self-destruction and other-destruction and creation-destruction, our bent toward fear and violence and death, and if that meant dying then he was obviously willing to do that.

But that wasn’t the plan. The plan was to put into flesh what the Law and the Prophets had put into words, words that could lead to life but could also be twisted or ignored, interpreted according to our own agendas.

The plan was to come and give the definitive interpretation of the Law and the Prophets—“I came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them,” so that we could stop arguing about them and start doing them.

And then to show us what such a life of obedience looks like, so that we could start living a life that leads to abundance for all instead of for just a few, a life that leads to life instead of death.

A life that’s worth living for eternity.

But we chose death, and crucified the Life that leads to life.

I can’t, I refuse to call that good.

You know that friend who no matter what always makes it about them? Whenever you try to share some story about yourself, they can always find something similar that happened to them and before you know it, before you can finish your own story, you find yourself listening to a story about them?

They may even think they are being empathic, showing you that they understand what you are feeling, but when you are trying to share something very personal with them and the whole conversation ends up being about them, it’s not empathic at all. It’s just narcissism.

I think that’s what we’ve done with the cross. We took something about Jesus and made it all about us.

Paul wrote a beautiful passage about Jesus dying on the cross in Philippians 2:5-11, and it’s all about Jesus.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

See? It’s all about Jesus. The only time we enter in is when Paul says, “Have the same mind in you.” Do the same thing.

Contrast that with what we do:

“Jesus died for my sins. That’s good!”

“All my sins are forgiven. That’s good!”

“I can go to heaven and live forever with God in a world of utter bliss and perfection. That’s good!”

“I am no longer a slave to sin. That’s good!”

“Jesus took up a cross so that I don’t have to. That’s good!”

Wait, what?

Jesus took up a cross so that I don’t have to? What about all those times when he said that if we want to come after him we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him? In the language of Philippians, we have to empty ourselves and become obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

What about that?

There’s a Chris Tomlin song that has been popular for a while in which he takes the classic hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and adds a new chorus. In the bridge we sing, “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.”

I’ll never know how much it cost.

Well why the hell not?

If we’d have ever taken up our own crosses, maybe we’d know how much it cost. Didn’t Jesus tell us to count the cost?

Maybe we did and decided we’d like it better if Jesus was the only one who had to take up a cross, and we created a theology to support that.

Jesus’ cross=good.

My cross=Hey Jesus, do you mind carrying this one too? I’m having too much fun over here being forgiven and living my abundant life.

Man, I really am in a foul mood, huh?

Look, my parents have always loved me, and if I had ever gotten myself into trouble they would have done anything and everything to help me. If I had gotten myself into such trouble that they had needed to sell everything and live the rest of their lives in poverty in order to save me, I know that they would have done it.

And if it worked and really did result in giving me my life back and allowing me to live a productive life, they would never have regretted it. They would live their lives saying that it was worth it, that it was a good thing and they would do it again.

But that says something about them, not me.

And I would be forever grateful to them.

But there would always be a part of me that would be sad that they had to do it.

That’s all I’m trying to say.

If we are going to call this Good Friday, can we at least do it with not only gratitude, but perhaps a little sadness?

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / mbolina

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