Why Call Good Friday Good?
Good Friday Prayer from the Eastern Orthodox tradition:
Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross (three times).
He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ (three times).
Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection
Good Friday is only Good (also called Holy or Great) only in relation to the Resurrection….as in the couplet of the prayer.
While veneration of The Cross and meditations upon the wounds and the sufferings of Jesus can lead to a morbid, psychologically dis-eased, and ultimately guilt-ridden narcissistic way of life, leading Christianity to be charged with being anti-human and necrophilic, a more ancient and paradoxically life-giving message I think can be found in the story.
Good Friday also evokes for too many (and thanks to too many horrible sermons) the notion of an angry god desiring blood in order to be appeased in his (always a his) wrath.
In this stream of Christianity, the world is a fallen trash heap and our true home abides elsewhere in heaven above. Calvary is the place where our boarding tickets are punched from the great journey out of this hell hole after death. We deserved much worse than we got and he paid the brutal price for our naughty selves.
And so on and so forth.
But looking at the earliest Christian sources (New Testament and the early Christian writers through the Patristic era) the theme of Good Friday is that, seen in the Light of Easter Sunday, death has been destroyed. A “New Age” has dawned whereby the older powers and principalities are overthrown by Love, who is God.
In that unforeseen and unexpected joy, The Cross, the symbol and the physical reality of the most horrid, vile, and fearful dark aspects of humanity, of existence itself, becomes the doorway into eternal life—beginning now in this life not only after death.
As Paul would say, “Death where is thy sting?”
The Cross, one of, if not the, most utterly tragic and horrifying deaths possible, can not forever defeat The Divine.
Or as Paul would exclaim (Romans 8: 35-37):
35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is a place today to mourn and remember the millions, nay billions, (and when considering the lives of all creation, trillions) who suffer so unimaginably in this world. Who like Christ are crucified daily upon the altar of injustice, the mocking parody table of our world. Where people are paid not to grow food or to keep food in storehouses til it rots, while millions of others starve and go unfed.
There is a place for that meditation today. A place for mourning and forgiveness, for repentance from the ways of acting that cause so much suffering and stand opposed to God who is the Creator and Lover of all beings, but not to the point of becoming overwhelmed by grief and sorrow, unable to see The Light.
Christians in Kenya (and elsewhere I believe throughout sub-Saharan Africa) walk early in the morning on Sundays to their churches–usually ramshackle in nature–chanting:
“We have another world in view.”
That world is what The Bible calls Heaven. What Jesus called The Kingdom of God. Not an elsewhere located heaven, up in the sky, or somewhere beyond death, but one breaking-in to the very marrow of existence now. For the Christian, that heavenly world on earth is somehow already here but not fully manifest. In the not yet, the injustice and cruelty still reign, but in the already somehow they are not final.
Just to clarify, if one does not hold to this Christian view, alternative interpretations abound. But to call the day “Good Friday” is already to assign the day (whether consciously or not) a Christian interpretive framework. As in the term Jesus Christ, which is itself a religious confession (not a neutral statement): Jesus is the Christ.
1. Jesus was a good being, even a social justice prophet who is gunned down by the machinery of the State and its terror. At its worst (imo) this view degrades into overwriting the iconography of Jesus as martyr onto the face of a psychopathic cold-blooded killer under the claim that he was “for the people”, when in fact Jesus stood against Zealots in his own day.
2. If Jewish, Jesus’ death as a righteous one is redeemed in The Holy One, as Jesus now rests with the other righteous, the countless murdered of Judaism (then and now) in the bosom of Abraham’s God, awaiting the general resurrection of all flesh. Given that the Cross was later used by Gentiles to strike holy terror and justify violence against Jews, this is doubly tragic.
3. If Gnostic, then Jesus only apparently died and his “death” is merely symbol of a larger spiritual (and usually therefore non-material) process.