For a lot of people Good Friday brings one question to mind:
Why ‘Good’? If I love Jesus and want to follow him, how can I say that the day he died was ‘Good’?
It sounds like I should be jumping with joy. I can’t read the Gospel accounts without tears.
English speakers have called the day “Good Friday” since 1300, according to the OED, so surely people have been asking the question a good long while too.
The term probably points to the day being held as holy. The Orthodox bypass the question, getting straight to the point by calling it “Holy and Great Friday.”
Not Safe Friday, but Good Friday
There is a sense, though, that “good” is just the right word. The cost was horrific, and I dearly love the One who bore it, but that Friday brought me something oh, so very good–a gift beyond any price.
This is the day when God took action to solve humanity’s deepest problem.
It may be easier to see the goodness of Easter, when we see the risen Christ has conquered death itself. But if he hadn’t died on Good Friday there would be nothing special about Jesus getting up the following Sunday morning.
Receiving the gift is not without cost either. Those who benefit from what Christ did on that Good Friday are called to take up their own crosses, and follow.
Like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Jesus himself, and what he gave us on that Friday, are really not at all safe. They are Good.
The Wondrous Cross
The great Protestant hymn writer Isaac Watts captured the goodness of Good Friday in “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (1709)
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Look at the sheer generosity: The rightful king of all takes the death of the lowest criminal. He willingly lays down his life, not only for his friends but for the very soldiers whose hands hammered in the nails.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God,
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
Anything I’ve achieved is flat in comparison. His outpouring of love created the world; now in human flesh his physical blood pours out to restore us to life. The only thing to be “proud” of is that we belong to him.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down,
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
They tried to mock him with a crown of thorns. But his kingly power shone when he threw soldiers to the ground by simply speaking a word (John 18:6). It shone brighter in paradox as his sorrow for a broken world, and his love for our desolate lives, led him to submit to those soldiers.
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
It is shocking when you see it, visually in the Grunewald altarpiece at the top of this post, or in Watts’ words about Christ’s spreading blood–especially in this verse that most hymnals omit. But if we do see it, really see Christ’s loving gift, we are lifted above all petty strivings, and focus on what lasts.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
I hope you can go to the Cross this Good Friday. That is where I want to be.
May we both be silenced, and redirected, by what we see. May we find our way to the presence of the God who gave us life and to whom our lives belong.
If you want a way to approach Scripture that leads to the life-giving presence of God, click here for your free copy of my new book on classic lectio divina.