Why do we make Good Friday bad?

I grew up going to an Episcopal church, one that had many extra services around the big Christian holy days such as Christmas and Easter. While it was nice to get baskets full of candy on Easter Sunday, I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of church on those days,or most days for that matter. I especially did not like the service called Good Friday, which remembered Jesus death. It was like going to the worst funeral ever. And it was made more worse in that you return every year to the same funeral. And while a lot of time has passed and I look at church completely different now, I am still not a huge fan how most (not all) “Good Friday” services function.

Let me explain. I do appreciate the continued traditions and cycles of the Christian calendar. It’s interesting to think about how many Christians throughout history have practiced the same things, read the same verses, and sang the same songs. But my goal isn’t to just copy and paste those traditions. I want to make these practices my own, for me and my family, and rethink about how we look at all traditions - including Good Friday.

What troubles me about most Good Friday services is how they are practiced. I think the mourning, sadness, and soberness of these services can be fake and forced, and sometimes even false. Sure we can pretend that we are the first followers of Jesus and reeling in shock from Jesus’ death. Sure we can copy them by privately weeping for their dashed hopes of how God was going to restore Israel like the times of David. And sure, we can grieve about how horribly Jesus suffered and died at the hands of humanity. But is this the correct response?

Take a look at the perspective from Hebrews 12:1-2:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

This is a commonly used verse, but the phrase I want us to focus on is, “...who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” I believe this can help us realize that our mourning is misplaced. Jesus endured the cross not in sadness, but for the realization of what was to come. I think of a pregnant woman in labor, who goes through intense suffering and pain. But it would be dumb and shortsighted to grieve for the mother. Moreover, it would be awkward every year before the child’s birthday to remember, in sadness, the pain she had to go through to have the child. I am fairly confident every mother would say, “Stop grieving! My child is right here. But feel free to babysit.”

Now obviously, that’s not a perfect analogy since the mother did not die. However, in the light of the resurrection, Jesus didn’t stay dead. I also understand that Good Friday services can stand as a reminder for the brokenness, incompleteness, and sadness in the world. In that light, Good Friday can be a helpful reminder, but let us not stop there.

I think we would do well to not neglect the Gospel by treating Good Friday as Bad Friday. One of the largest shocks of the Christian message is that suffering isn’t a bad thing. When Jesus died on the cross, he flipped the world’s powers on its head. He took the worst we could throw at him and ended the Law, establishing a new way to be human. What we see throughout the New Testament is that suffering is now something we can actually rejoice in (Rom 5:3-5, Jam 1:2-4, Matt 5:3-5) and even boast in (Gal 6:14).

On this Good Friday let’s remember that upside-down thinking that makes this day good. While Jesus did die a horrible death, He did it for the joy set before Him. He did it for a reason, actually many reasons. We have the ability to live out those reasons, right now. We are no longer under the Law that separated Jew and Gentile. We are no longer defined by the wrongs we have done. We can now approach God in confidence. We now know what God looks like and follow the example of Jesus. We can live in the light of the resurrection, where death is no longer the worst thing. We can even remember that death is our gain (Phil 1:21), and how death has lost its sting (1 Cor 15:55-57).

So today when I head to my church’s Good Friday service with my family, I will remember the joy along with the suffering. Yes, I will remember the suffering of the cross, but far more than that, I will rejoice knowing that I am called to lay down my life like Jesus and live in light of the resurrection. For all of this doesn’t cause me to mourn, but it brings balance and a call to action toward what does cause me sadness in this world.

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