Good Friday. Seriously?
It is the ultimate paradox. We call the day that Jesus was brutally murdered, crucified on a cross….Good. I read an article in Christian History magazine a few years back that suggested that the name Good Friday simply evolved, as language does. They point to the earlier designation, “God’s Friday,” as its root. This seems a reasonable idea, given that “goodbye” evolved from “God be with you.” Whatever the origin, the current name of this holy day offers a fitting lesson to those of us who assume, as is easy to do, that “good” must mean “happy.” We find it hard to imagine a day marked by sadness as a good day.
Of course, the church has always understood that the day commemorated on Good Friday was anything but happy. Sadness, mourning, fasting, and prayer have been its focus since the early centuries of the church. A fourth-century church manual, the Apostolic Constitutions, called Good Friday a “day of mourning, not a day of festive joy.”
Yet, despite its sadness, Good Friday is truly good. Its sorrow is a godly sorrow. As one writer put it, Good Friday “is a sharp, prophetic jab at a time and a culture obsessed by happiness. In the midst of consumerism’s Western playground, Good Friday calls to a jarring caption the sacred ‘pursuit of happiness.’ The cross reveals this pursuit for what it is: a secondary thing.”
Still, language being what it is, there is an absurdity about calling this day “good.” It is oxymoronic, paradoxical, self-contradictory, absurd. Nietzsche dismissed the whole concept of Christ’s suffering by saying “God on a cross…preposterous!” And though we wouldn’t often agree with Nietzsche, it seems, on the surface, that he did make a valid point. Preposterous indeed.
We live, 2,000 years this side of the cross, with the blessing of hindsight, of Scripture’s testimony, of what Paul Harvey would call, “the rest of the story.” Can you imagine, if we were to jump into Mr. Peabody’s way-back machine, or Bill and Ted’s phone booth, and find our way back to first-century Jerusalem, if those first century disciples would have called this Friday night “good.”? These were ordinary men and women who had heard Jesus’ call to follow Him, and had done just that. They had put their hand to the plow and not looked back, invested their all in this new kingdom to be, believed in Him. Just a few days earlier they had walked in to Jerusalem in that same procession with Jesus, the triumphal entry…..the King coming home to rule.
What had happened in just a few short days? How had this good news unraveled into bad so quickly? That Friday evening they were overwhelmed, heartbroken, no doubt perplexed by all that had transpired, surely sitting in stunned silence, with their broken dreams, mourning their loss. Their minds raced with the scenes they had witnessed that day, the scourging, the nails, the crown of thorns, the insults, the spear to the side, the broken breathing, and final words. Then the ground quaking and the darkness in the middle of the day. The picture in their minds of Jesus on the cross was not sanitized as we are prone to make it. Death by crucifixion is the ultimate in cruel and unusual punishment, a horrific way to die and they had watched the One they loved so dearly, be killed so brutally. Good Friday? Good? Seriously? That’s foolishness.
A few decades later, the apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, penned these words:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness-it is folly-to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Cor. 1:18-25)
Preposterous? Yes. Absurd? No doubt. Scandalous, for sure. Foolishness even, and just in time for April Fool’s Day which comes on, of all days, Easter Sunday! And yet, on this side of the cross, on this side of the empty tomb, on this side of history, we do know better. For those of us who believe, it does make sense.
I pray that you have experienced the power of the cross for your own salvation, and I trust you also know the hope that comes from the empty tomb. We will commemorate and celebrate both this weekend at Shelby Crossings, and I sure hope you can be with us.