Is Good Friday "Good?"

March 29, 2013

Is Good Friday “Good?”

Duke Chapel Interior

It was a crisp and chilly Friday evening. My friends and I had gathered for worship. The Duke Chapel was brightly lit with a sober and ethereal light. As we listened to Christ’s passion, the light grew ever dim and the altar was slowly stripped bare. After each reading a candle was extinguished and another altarpiece removed. When we heard that Jesus had said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” the chapel went dark—completely dark—not-able-to-see-your-hand-before-your-face dark. In such a “plugged in” world, I don’t ever recall being in darkness so pervasive, and well, unsettling. Then the bell tolled. The deep and resonant bell tower sounded thirty-three times, once for each year of Jesus’ life. Then the lucifer (the light-bearer, or acolyte, if you will) brought in a single flame and lit a single candle. We then left in silence. The Good Friday service was over. It was stirring. It was haunting. But was it Good?

The title “Good Friday” always gives me pause. We call so many things in life, “good.” I just saw a good movie. That was a good dinner. Do these glasses look good on me? In church leadership, we are sometimes taught that “Good is the enemy of great” (Jim Collins). Is Good Friday, “Good?”

In a word—yes. One day someone asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘good?’ Only God is good.” This is liberating news, but it also reminds us how often we use “good,” a term Jesus reserved for God, to so many things. It is a “Good Friday,” because the one who is “good,” died. It is a good Friday because through brokenness, God’s goodness received evil and transformed it. With that said, the day we remember Christ’s crucifixion should be called, “God Friday,” because the missing “o” is upon our lips as we stand in awe of God’s vulnerability, like that familiar hymn, “Where you there when they crucified my Lord . . . oh—sometimes it makes me tremble.”

Pray with me: “Grieving God, on the cross your Son embraced death even as he had embraced life: with faith and trust in your promise. Grant that we who have been born out of suffering may hold fast to our faith in Christ. Help us by the power of your Holy Spirit to trust in your mercy in all times of need. Amen.”