What exactly is good about Good Friday?

Published 2:04 am Friday, April 6, 2012

In the seasons of the Christian churches’ observances, two events gather the attention of members of most places of worship. And in our nation, even those persons who may not be related to a church or chapel or meeting place, there is a strong pull to the events, the rituals and the activities of Christmas and Easter.

The prelude to Easter is the day termed Good Friday. Why Good? Among responses: a misnomer, a paradox, an oxymoron, a mocking label of alienated outsiders, or a profound insight of a believing community?

In part, we may say is that the painful, cruel, act of rejection, and the death of Jesus Christ was the prelude to what many Christians regard as the triumph over death. The victory is in the story preserved in the New Testament; the belief that in liturgical language, “the grave could not hold him.”

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There is a straight line narrative of, in summary, the progression toward Good Friday: The Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the last meal of Jesus with his disciples (later celebrated as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist), Palm Sunday, doubt, rejection, choice, condemnation, trial, the agony on the cross, death, a body taken to a tomb (or cave?) of a friend, the passage of hours of wrestling in the throes of disbelief, confusion and dislocation, then … the great reversal!

These are the major references to the proclamation central to most Christians, regardless of denomination, cultural differences, geographical location, language, or creed. Easter is viewed, in the various faith communities as the culmination of a peerless life lived on this Earth for possibly 35 years.

But, to the question: Why is a particular Friday to be regarded — say in comparison with all the other Fridays — as particularly good? In some way, an onlooker may view the crucifixion of a model citizen, a compassionate person, as ugly and disdainful.

Past practives leading to ‘Jesus died for me!’

We cannot avoid the fact that the early followers of Jesus, often called disciples, expanded the teachings of Jesus, the practices of the faith communities within the understanding of the Old Testament (the Scriptures of the Jewish congregations). Part of those teachings were linked to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Some teachers may view references of this kind as metaphors that reveal saving truth (John 1:29).

The sacrifice of lambs was part of ancient Jewish practice as an offering to God (Exodus 29:38-42). This ritual was a part of the practice of the festival called Passover. A serious student of Jewish and Christian history, could well spend months in discovering the details of the meaning of Passover. This was viewed by followers of Jesus, as a “lamb” sacrificed to God as a basis of forgiveness of sin and the establishment of peace among one’s community (Luke 22:1-13, Hebrews 10:16-23).

Jesus’ teachings

We may assume that Jesus, a Jew, reared in the traditions of the Old Testament, was familiar with the teachings and patterns of religious life in his day.

It is to be noted that the use of lamb, often applied to Jesus, sometimes as a figure of speech, appears 28 times in the New Testament. Examples: Romans 8:36, Revelation 13:11, John 1:29, I Peter 1:19, I Corinthians 5:7.

The good that is projected onto the Friday of which I write, is linked to the idea that the death of Jesus, the cross, (a sacrifice), is the basis of a person receiving God’s acceptance. Out of this application comes phrases like: “Jesus died for me on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.” This view is commonly to be noted in the hymns of most Christian churches which are replete with language that interprets the death of Jesus (a lamb), as the basis of Salvation.

This understanding and language has settled deep within the minds and souls of a seeming majority of persons within the Christian tradition. However, the stark, some would say brutal, offensive interpretation — a human sacrifice to bridge the gap between Earth and heaven, to gain forgiveness, is to be embraced in a symbolic manner. That manner would not, contemporary scholars and myself, too, lessen the importance and fact, that through the death of Jesus, human beings see a forgiving love of God acknowledged in the face of Jesus.

Humane ministry:?The price he paid

A valid response that one may experience, is to know that Jesus lived a life opposing what I call “domination systems.” His vocation, as he understood it, was to open a vista of grace, followed by an obedience to attain to the will of God.

Agreement is found upon one’s study of the larger narrative of Holy Week, that Jesus was executed by established authority. The hymn with words: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” is a question, or challenge to every heart — the life of service, self-giving, compassion, love of neighbor, and a sense of justice that addresses the structures of society, may lead through rough waters.

For Jesus, the “rough waters” was the conclusion of three years of this divine man doing the will of God as he embraced it. His earthly end was a death, but whatever interpretation one places on that cross, the affirmation may be: it was noble; it turns a day into a Good Friday. It is why some of us live out of the Scriptures like John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave …” What is given is the splendid promise of eternal life.

— Marvin Repinski is a minister in the United Methodist Church, now retired. He is an Adjunct Professor at Riverland Community College and a volunteer for several community agencies.