With Good Friday and Easter rapidly approaching, our staff is busy preparing for one of the holiest times in the church calendar. Easter is probably my favorite day of the year not only for what it represents but also because as a “holiday” our culture can only commercially jack it up it so much. But to get to Easter you have to go through Good Friday. Besides the fact that it’s the one holy day where it’s cool to wear all black, what value does Good Friday have?
I think this is important for a number of reasons. In our modern church culture that wants to get quickly to and celebrate the resurrection, it’s all about the “celebration” service and high energy worship service. We want to get to the end of the story quickly rather than linger in the part that doesn’t feel so consoling. What’s hilarious is that it’s neurotic to think that we always need to get to a risen Christ thinking that somehow people need to know how the story resolves. Look… relax. Everyone I’ve asked knows the point of Easter so don’t be so quick to get to Sunday when Friday has deep meaning for the Christian.
We are people of the resurrection but the problem is that it leaves no room for lament. When is the last time that you went to a worship service where lamenting was prominent and acceptable? We don’t lament well like the Jews in the Old Testament. In his book, Psalms, W.H. Bellinger cites sixty seven Psalms in the Bible as either partly or fully expressing lament. That’s 45% of the Israel’s worship book that contains some expression of grief and sorrow. Tim Keller wrote, “Anyone who thinks that the Christian life is up and up and good all the time ought to tear these Psalms out of their Bible.” Lamenting doesn’t come naturally to us who are much more about consolation than we are about sorrow, grief, and even despair.
Even how most people think of the word “good” in “Good Friday” betrays the fact that they want a somber day to be a bit happier. The day itself sounds a bit like an oxymoron… “what is good about it? Let’s just skip it and get to the resurrection.” That’s probably why the crowd for Good Friday services are much sparser than Easter. While the name “Good Friday” probably evolved from “God’s Friday”, the fact that it’s good should remind us that there is a form of sadness, loneliness, and even despair that is a good. For one, at least it helps us realize that people who come to church are not happy all the time. Some come deeply saddened by life’s twists and turns. Some are lonely, maybe because they have lost a loved one or long for a loved one. Some even are experiencing a dryness with God that is not fixed by, “just rejoice.”
The day is also good because it is also a shocking reminder that what is good is not always about what makes us happy. In our consumeristic culture that values utility based on pleasure, there is little that Good Friday offers us. The day functions as a way to shout to us in the shadows that God does his best work when you have nothing to prop you up, when you are at the end of your resources. This is an incredible good, Even the Apostle Paul speaks of a sorrow that is good because it leads us back to the grace of God (2 Cor. 7:10).
But ultimately because of the sadness of the day, we are reminded of the sorrow and despair Jesus endured for people. Good Friday is good because it allows us to enter into the drama of the gospel. We get to enter into the drama of His sorrow, His grief, His desolation that He willingly accepted on our behalf. Like any good drama, we long for the twist in the plot, the “eucatatrosophe” as J.R.R. Tolkien called it, the redemptive turn in the story that takes anguish and turning it on its head. This pivotal climax is less understandable unless you enter into the drama of “going down” first.
If you live in Valparaiso, come and join us by observing Good Friday together as we enter into that which is good for us. Come and lament well with us. Let it lead to this overwhelming anticipation that even in the darkness, God is doing something profound. And if you live elsewhere, obviously worship with God’s people on Easter, but enter into the drama of the gospel by attending with others on Good Friday. In that way you enter into the whole story and not just a portion of it.