Why Do We Call It “Good Friday” When….?

Why Do We Call It “Good Friday” When….?

Today is “Good Friday.” To many students whose schools are on holiday and to many workers whose companies close for a long Easter weekend, it’s “good” because they can sleep in, go shopping, take a trip or whatever. But my question today is why Christians call it “good.”

Here’s an irony that causes me some cognitive dissonance whenever I attend a “Good Friday” service (which I usually do): We call it “Good Friday” but worship on it as if something terrible, depressing, sad and awful happened. Our “Good Friday” services tend to be dark, dour, minor key, funereal. At most we celebrate the Sunday coming (Easter)! “It’s Friday but Sunday’s Coming!”

But wait (I ask myself)! Why, then, do we call it “Good Friday?” Why not call it “Bad Friday?”

Whatever the opposite of celebration is, that’s what most “Good Friday” services are.

Okay, I can hear the thought some reading this are thinking: “But Jesus’ crucifixion was a horrible event—from one perspective, anyway. We need to remember his agony, his suffering, the injustice of his execution, his feeling of being abandoned by his Father, etc. All that stuff is bad and sad and not to be celebrated.”

True—“from one perspective.” But at the same time, of course, we believe that the cross event was also a marvelous victory, a triumph, a defeat of sin, death and the powers of evil. So there’s another perspective to recall and emphasize—without the cross no one would be saved!

Again, I can hear people reading this thinking “What’s your point, Olson?” Here it is…

If we call today “Good Friday” we should also celebrate the cross event and not just remember the evil and suffering involved in it.

If not on Good Friday, when do we celebrate the cross? What day do we set aside to rejoice with thankful hearts for the cross like we do the empty tomb on Easter Sunday?

The contrast between how we worship on Good Friday and Easter Sunday is jolting. It implies that the crucifixion was a huge error, only an injustice, undeserved suffering. This is one fault I find in the “church calendar” and how it is traditionally observed. If evangelical churches (of whatever denominations) are going to observe the liturgical calendar, we ought to amend the way it has been observed—at least in this case.

Here is my suggestion: An evangelical “Good Friday” service should begin in minor key, somber, remembering our Savior’s suffering and death from the one perspective mentioned above. It was a horrible event, a grave injustice, an undeserved death at the hands of sinners. The lights should be dim, the cross draped in black, the hymns focused on Jesus’ agony. The Scriptures read should be about all of that. But, halfway through the service, the lights should go up! The Scriptures read should be about the victory of the cross over death and sin and hell and evil powers! The songs should be celebratory and joyful! We should sing “In the Cross of Christ I Glory!” That other perspective should dominate. This event was the turning point of history, the moment of reconciliation, the cause of our eternal hope!

That’s why we call it “Good Friday!” And only if we do that should we call it that.

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  • I have heard that “good” is from the Old English and used as a synonym for “holy” or “pious.” As the orthodox call this day, “Great and Holy Friday,” rather than “good” as in “good news.”

    • rogereolson

      Perhaps so and thanks for that suggestion. Still, the vast majority of people today think “Good” in “Good Friday” means something good happened on that day. I assume even “Great and Holy” would signify the same.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Re: The Glory of the Cross

    Amen and Amen! Just like creation, just like all the other victories of God over chaos, nothingness, confusion, purposelessness, darkness etc., the cross represents the ultimate victory in this suite. It’s the finale. It opens the door to the Kingdom to whosoever will. The Kingdom already announced and lived by Jesus of Nazareth. The clearing away of the final barriers to the kind of world God really wants. The creation to come that is now beginning. The kind of work God does when opposition is no more. The Resurrection is the proof that all of these things really took place in the spiritual realm, because of and during the events of the Cross.

  • Ric

    Some congregations have four services to encompass what you are suggesting. On Maundy Thursday Holy Communion and foot washing are observed to remember the Last Supper. On Good Friday the tenebrae service begins in light and ends in darkness and silence. On Holy Saturday the Easter Vigil begins in darkness, the flame is brought in and the light increases. Then comes the time of the great noise and recognition that Jesus is risen. On Easter Sunday the Resurrection is celebrated with great joy.

  • Why do we call it Good Friday if it was impossible for Jesus to die on that day and fulfill prophecy? Wouldn’t Wonderful Wednesday be better?

    Okay, tradition, I get it, and following the theme here, the Adagio in G Minor, by Albinoni, seems best: it holds and simultaneously presents both the joy and sorrow of life as a gift. Listening to that last high violin stroke, there is agony and ecstasy at once. It does not seem like an either/or choice. Great suffering honors our devotion and love of others.

  • Suzanne

    Sorry, I disagree. Friday IS good because it won for us our salvation. In the ancient words of the Church: “O Happy Fault, O Necessary Sin of Adam, that won for us so great a salvation!” AND, we do know that Sunday is coming; but until Sunday comes, it seems to me we DO need to dwell on the cross. Paul talks a LOT more about the CROSS and the CRUCIFIXION than he actually does the resurrection (“I preach Christ crucified…”); if not for the CROSS there wouldn’t BE a resurrection. We take the pain and death SO LIGHTLY these days…we would do well to ponder much more the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation. The lights should be dim and REMAIN dim and somber until EASTER SUNDAY, which the LIGHT breaks forth and Christ rises, conquering death and sin and hell.

    • rogereolson

      You have totally misunderstood what I wrote. Go back and read it again.

    • Walt

      Suzanne, I quite agree with your sentiment and example. What you describe is the spirit and progression f the Roman Catholic Triduum, a tradition I love dearly. Though Christ’s death on the cross was a sad and tragic event it was also an incredible act of love. Since the world had somehow not grasped the depth and sincerity of God’s love for us, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, demonstrated in no uncertain terms that constant, abiding love. On Good Friday we sit with that sadness, that loss and that incredible joy. This is why I love our Roman Catholic crucifixes — much different from the empty cross, a sign of victory and triumph, the crucifix speaks to me of God’s unfathomable love.

  • Bev Mitchell


    I think this illustrates the kind of Good Friday celebration you are advocating. It’s from the Gathier Vocal Band and we just heard a recording of Larry Ford singing it at a concert in Jerusalem (2005). I pray you and yours have a blessed Easter.

    Then He Bowed His Head And Died
    Gaither Vocal Band

    • rogereolson

      Thanks, Bev. But I had to cut the lyrics to avoid a potential conflict with copyright laws. People can use the title to go elsewhere to find the lyrics or (probably) even see the performance on youtube.

  • Steve Rogers

    Excellent point. Personally, I celebrate the cross every time I take communion. His body broken and blood shed for me before I existed and humanity in general were yet sinners is always a source of joy.

  • It’s “Good” because He took unto Himself all our sin.

    “But, halfway through the service, the lights should go up! The Scriptures read should be about the victory of the cross over death and sin and hell and evil powers! The songs should be celebratory and joyful! We should sing “In the Cross of Christ I Glory!” ”

    That’s what Easter is for!

    Theologians of ‘glory’ are always trying to jump over the death part of our faith. “If you would gain your life in this life, you must lose it.”

    Death…then resurrection. A picture of Baptism (for the theologian of the Cross). For the theologian of glory, it’s up, up, up the ladder to greater spirituality and “getting better”.

    We die…and then we live.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t get your point. Are you calling me a “theologian of glory?” That would be absurd. I think you missed my point.

    • Walt

      I like your point. Thanks.

  • Dr Olson: Thanks for your thoughts re: Good Friday and the Resurrection! I especially liked your suggestion about reformulating the order of our Good Friday services. A little light and joy wouldn’t detract from the story of the Cross.

    I would like to point out some truths about Christ’s resurrection that are not generally understood; truths that I have written about in my latest book (see below):

    Read all about it and rejoice! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his mercy has caused us to be ‘born again’ to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3 NAS). Notice the words of Peter in the above verse — “caused us to be born again.” Other versions of the Bible have it: “given us new birth” (NIV) or “hath begotten us again” (KJV). In every case, however, our new birth was initiated by God’s good beneficence, but never the result of our good behavior or even our good prayer of repentance.

    Also, take particular notice that it was solely “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (vs. 3 above) that anyone was ever said to be granted “born again” status. That’s right; the resurrection of Christ was the catalyst of our new birth. His resurrection gave immediate birth to a newly created humanity; a new humanity that began to take infant steps — steps that will ultimately lead to full spiritual maturity.
    (An excerpt from a new ‘5-Star’ book, Dropping Hell and Embracing Grace, by Ivan A. Rogers. Available from Amazon.com, also on iPad, iPhone, and Kindle).

    • rogereolson

      But, of course, the question is to whom “us” refers in 1 Peter 1:3 and similar verses. Apparently, if I understand you correctly, it refers to all human beings. I read it as referring to God’s people, the mystical body of Christ, all who are “in Christ” by faith.

  • Suzanne

    I don’t think I misunderstood at all. You said that the service should be split in two, with the first half somber and the second half light. I disagree for reasons stated.

  • EricW

    I thought it came from “God’s Friday” like “Good-Bye” comes from “God Be With You/Ye.”

    • rogereolson

      Perhaps, but would that mean it’s not also “good?”

  • Josh T.

    I wonder if the more funeral-esque Good Friday services are intended to be a reenactment of the day, given that the disciples did not at that time yet understand that the cross was a victory over evil, at least not until being demonstrated by the resurrection.

    But I agree that there is a risk in not celebrating the cross until Easter. Waiting reinforces the idea that the resurrection itself was a stand-alone victory (reversing the “huge error” of the cross you mentioned), instead of the resurrection being the proof a victory already obtained. If churches were better on Easter morning with tying the cross to the victory and resurrection as proof/vindication, perhaps having a solemn reenactment that delays celebration a couple days would be okay. But my experience is that churches tend to focus on the resurrection as the sole victory itself. I think people tend to misunderstand Paul’s position on “if the dead are not raised…you are still in your sins,” almost like the resurrection somehow made the cross effective, rather than the resurrection being proof that Jesus’ death was victorious over sin/death/evil. Easter is the end cap of a single awesome victory, not two separate (cross-plus-resurrection) victories; at least, as far as I understand it.

  • Andreas

    Here in Sweden we even call it long friday. As it is some kind of nightmarish day that refuses to come to an end.