Good Friday: Good Lord, What’s it Good For?

It’s Good Friday, and the last of these short essays on Holy Week.

One question comes up every year: Why is it called Good Friday, what’s good about it? I don’t know is the most trustworthy answer I can give. The day is not called Good Friday in most other languages. For them it’s Long Friday, Holy Friday, Sorrowful Friday, or Holy Friday. The O.E.D. suggests that in ages past the English Church called all significant religious days Good, but what did it mean? Some claim, says the O.E.D., that it comes from German Got for God, others say from German Gut for good. Take your pick.

I supposed it could be good because Jesus’ salvific act, part of which takes place on the cross, is beneficial. It brought blessings beneficial to you and me. Why would I say the cross is only part of Jesus’ salvific act? It’s hard for us not to dissect events into their individual parts, judging them separately, but Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection are one single event in which the mystery of salvation is made fully ours. It’s why our single three day long service of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter has no blessing or formal dismissal between each of its parts. It’s why, in an odd way, a crucifix hanging on the wall signifies Christ’s resurrection as much as it does his crucifixion.

The readings for Good Friday begin with a portion of Isaiah where God says his servant will bear our infirmities, carry our diseases, and like a lamb, be led to slaughter (Isa 52). Think about his earthly ministry: How did he heal so many? By absorbing their infirmities and diseases into his being of perfect love, putting a measure of his perfect love in their place. His crucifixion was an act of absorption into his being of all the evil, greed, fear, cowardice, and unintended error of those who put him there, and those who abandoned him there.

As I wrote last week citing Karie Hines Shah, “Jesus suffers not because it is horribly rare but because it is horribly common.” Jesus suffered as thousand of others had, and would for centuries to come. He suffered with the guilty and the innocent, right through to the end. It wasn’t God’s punishment for our sins, and it wasn’t unique; the empire was filled with crucifixions. It was the final and most profound act of our Lord sharing in the reality of our lives, and a sign that we would share in the fullness of his. It was a sign no one could read until the resurrection, and then they began to see more fully: it was all of a piece, one saving act for all people in every time. As I wrote before, does God really, truly know what you and I go through as mere human beings? Yes. God does because God has.

It is the sealing of the new covenant in Christ’s blood. It’s the covenant we, as Christians, are living into. It is not for us only, but for the whole world. Jesus, the light of the world, has given into our hands a portion of his light to guide our way, and to shed light that others might follow with us. It is Good.

2 thoughts on “Good Friday: Good Lord, What’s it Good For?”

  1. You’ve summarized the “Good” in Good Friday…..encapsulating an answer to the abiding question that I’ve mulled around in my head for a long time. Jesus salvific act is, indeed, “good”….for the whole world. Let’s just leave it at that, as it is “good”….and at the top of the Goodness Pile!

Leave a Reply