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 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.