Why We Need Good Friday

2012-04-23 by . 3 comments

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When I was in seminary, I took a class on Christian worship. I didn’t take it at the Baptist seminary I was attending. Instead, I got permission to take Worship with a personal friend who was far, far more liturgical than I was. I knew that my Baptist class would dig deep on the theological foundations of worship, I wanted something more. I wanted something deeper. I wanted to experience the historical worship of the church at my core. I wanted know what it means to feel worship.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Baptists. I still believe we are the most cerebral, most thoughtful group of scholars out there. But what I fear we miss is the heart and soul of what we study.

That class was my first exposure to the Church calendar – the cycle of birth, suffering, death, and life that played itself out every year. There was a time to feel the anticipation of Christmas. There was a time to put away at Lent. There was the burst of excitement that is Easter, and there was the humdrum of Ordinary Time. And then, there was Good Friday. The one day that encompassed it all.

Wendy, of course, knew that I was a Baptist, and so when I would submit worship service plans, she’d encourage me to make them in a way that my church would be able to use them. But then she assigned the final project. The assignment was to write up plans for five worship services. One for Palm Sunday, One for Easter, and three for Holy Week.

I had to call Wendy. “Wendy, you realize that my little Baptist church probably couldn’t even name three Holy Week services that weren’t Easter or Palm Sunday?”

“You don’t do the Great Vigil? That’s an amazingly Scripture-filled service!”

“I agree. More Scripture is read there than a lot of churches I know will preach in a month!”

“How about Maunday Thursday?”

“Well, I suppose I could do a Christian sedar. I could use that as a teaching about the Passover that Jesus was celebrating. My church will like that.”

“Ok. Do that. And then, I guess all you need is Good Friday.”

“Problem, Wendy. My church wouldn’t ever do Good Friday. Its just not their custom!”

“What do you mean they don’t do Good Friday? How can you possibly do Easter without Good Friday?”

How did I ever do Easter without Good Friday? That question haunted me for quite a while. Indeed, I probably didn’t get over that question until I, like Wendy, became an Episcopalian.

Oh, to be sure, I still love Easter. What Christian doesn’t feel a little stir when they gather in the church parking lot just before Sunrise, pulling out the hard, uncomfortable sitting chairs, waiting for the organist on the little portable piano to start tapping out “Up from the Grave He Arose!” (With a mighty triumph o’er his foes!) If you’re a Christian, you know that feeling of hope meeting reality on Resurrection morning. The Christ was was crucified is alive! We celebrate know that the victory is won – O grave, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? It is a happy rebirth of all that we hold dear.

But without Good Friday, can we really say that?

You see, before you can celebrate the Resurrection, you must first mourn the death.

When I became an Episcopalian, I started seeing how we would have a simple reflection period on Good Friday. From noon until 3 – as Jesus was hanging on the cross. We put aside our busy schedules and simply sit in silence. Our rector will, every half hour, read a small meditation on what Christ did for us, but mostly, it is corporate silence. We are free to focus on just one thing – the depth of Jesus’ love.

That feeling, that experience, speaks to my heart in ways that are deeper than those thoughts which might fill my head. Sitting on that worn bench, the cerebrial thoughts can percolate down to my cardiac core. Realizing that the Messiah wasn’t engaged in some theological sophistry as the thorns pierced his brow or the whip lashed his back. Good Friday beckons me to contemplate not the theology but the physicality that he endured.

Before the Resurrection, there was death. His, mine, and ours.

As Christians we want to skip to the end so fast. Jesus is back! Jesus is Alive! Jesus is going to be our friend and be with us in heaven! What glorious news!

But how can we really appreciate how good that news is until we appreciate what our fate should have been.

We were the ones supposed to be on that cross. We were the ones who should have died. But Jesus took our place. He was mocked. He was beaten. He was stripped. He was forced to wear a crown of thorns. He was violated and crushed and bruised. All for us. All for me.

It was the ultimate act of love. There was no good feeling on the cross, but it was the ultimate act of love. As Johnny Hart, the late writer of the comic strip B.C. once wrote: “Why do we call Good Friday good? A term too oft misunderstood. You who were bought by the blood of his cross. You alone can call Good Friday Good.”

When we realize what was lost. When we realize what was bought. When we realize that the bleakness of Good Friday is all we had – only when we have internalized that everything truly was dead – only then can we truly celebrate Easter.

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  • So true. Excellent. Also, great Johnny Hart quote. Love his comics. 🙂

  • Providence says:

    that was beautiful it made me cry

  • Providence Delfina says:

    thats true

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