I always find it bizarre that the Friday of Easter is called ‘Good’ Friday, and often wonder where the name came from. How can the events that we remember today ever be described as ‘good’? The Germans call it Mourning Friday (Karfreitag), the French Holy Friday (Vendredi Saint), but how did we come up with Good Friday?
I know, you can find many plausible reasons for the name through a simple Google search, but none of them say why we keep the name, when ultimately it doesn’t make any sense to the contemporary mind.
Or maybe we keep it for just that reason, because it doesn’t make any sense, because it hints of the paradox that is Easter, that through pain comes life, that through sorrow and mourning come joy and love.
As Chris Armstrong once wrote in Christianity Today (here)
“What a supreme paradox. We now call the day Jesus was crucified, Good. Many believe this name simply evolved—as language does. They point to the earlier designation, “God’s Friday,” as its root…Whatever its 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.” Ambrose, the fourth-century archbishop who befriended the notorious sinner Augustine of Hippo before his conversion, called it the “day of bitterness on which we fast.”Many Christians have historically kept their churches unlit or draped in dark cloths. Processions of penitents have walked in black robes or carried black-robed statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. And worshippers have walked the “Stations of the Cross,” praying and singing their way past 14 images representing Jesus’ steps along the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha. Yet, despite—indeed because of—its sadness, Good Friday is truly good. Its sorrow is a godly sorrow. It is like the sadness of the Corinthians who wept over the sharp letter from their dear teacher, Paul, convicted of the sin in their midst. Hearing of their distress, Paul said, “My joy was greater than ever.” Why? Because such godly sorrow “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10)”.
Good Friday is not called ‘good’ because it is a day of happiness but because it is a day of sadness. Why? Because the sorrow we feel produces good in us – repentance that results in joy, love and surrender that leads to life. Paradox. It’s because it doesn’t compute, doesn’t make sense to our reasoned worldview that it has power. Power to transform, to renew and revive. Power to do good in us, and through us.
A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook this morning:
“Of all the great engineering feats that mankind has built, none is greater than Calvary, where, with two rough planks of wood and four iron nails, the Carpenter of Nazareth spanned the gulf between heaven and earth”
That sums it up perfectly for me. The greatest feat of engineering ever accomplished, to bridge the gap between me and God. The gap opened by my selfishness and pride, but filled by God himself, nailed to a cross on Calvary.
Good Friday? You’re having me on!
Well, maybe not good as in happy, but definately good!