Why Today is Good
How can torture, humiliation, and death be Good? How can the worst punishment of a violent empire be anything other than savagery?
Christians throughout the centuries have marked Good Friday as a chance to somberly reflect on Jesus’ death at the hands of the Roman authorities and the religious establishment. I’ve always been moved by the complex coming together of sadness and remembrance that Good Friday represents: the Teacher, Leader, Savior, Son of God had given His followers hope that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand – only to dash those hopes by submitting Himself to a death on a Roman cross. Palm Sunday was the celebration of a new King. 5 days later, that King had nails through his hands and feet, a hole in His side, a grieving Virgin Mother, and a scattered, scared, and dismayed following.
So why do we call today Good? How can a day full of so much pain also be Good?
Some of the other names for Good Friday throughout Christendom have been:
“Holy Friday” (Old English)
“Sacred Friday” (Romance languages)
“Passion Friday” (Russian)
“The Holy and Great Friday” (Greek Church)
“Long Friday” (Anglo-Saxons)
And, I think, the most apropos: “Sorrowful Friday” (German)
We can connect with these various names because they teach us that there’s a lot going on amidst this day when we remember Christ’s death. This day is a good day, a holy day, a sacred day, a day of suffering, a great day, a long day, and a sorrowful day. My faith tradition is not afraid to let today be a complex day of mourning, to challenge us to connect with not only the suffering of our Savior, but also to connect with the suffering of one another and all of humanity – throughout history and at present. And more, as we live in the wake of destruction wrought by COVID-19, I connect deeply with my tradition’s acceptance that mourning, in all its nuance, has a place amidst a life of faith.
As I meditate on the pain present in Good Friday, I recognize that Jesus’ brutal death can be Good because it is in the deepest pain, the darkest moments, the greatest losses, the ultimate humiliations, and the most debilitating grief that God is most present and intimate and at work and in charge. Amidst pain, He is carrying out the plan He has had all along: to be with us, to bring us into relationship with Himself, and to make all things new and perfect. He uses any and every aspect of the human experience to draw us to Himself so that we, as free but imperfect beings, might accept the gift of His perfect and perfecting Love.
The Cross is brutal. It is humiliating and barbaric, a symbol of systemic oppression and religious violence and imperial bloodshed. But God, in His infinite goodness, can use the worst to give us, His kids, His best. To stare death in the face and make clear that death has no sting, that the chains of Hell are no match for the love and goodness and kindness and patience and grace of our Father in Heaven. Jesus’ death is Good because the eternally past, eternally present, and eternally future work of God cannot be thwarted. God will stop at nothing to bring us into relationship with Himself. Death cannot hold Him. The Cross cannot defeat Him. The sins of a free humanity cannot upend His plans. The gates of Hell cannot prevail against Him:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16)
“[Christ Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
So today is Good despite the brutality of Jesus’ death and the harsh realities of 2021. Today is holy and sacred and full of suffering and great and long and sorrowful – just like the human experience. Christianity is not afraid to enter into the complexity of our imperfect reality. We know that God so loved us that He GAVE. He so loved us that He SUBMITTED. He so loved us that He DIED. He so loved us that He made sure that nothing in all creation can separate us from Him. Not COVID. Not quarantine. Not fear or uncertainty or financial ruin or systemic oppression or heartbreaking struggle or devastating loss. Nothing can separate us from Him and His perfect and perfecting Love.
Nothing can separate us from God and His perfect and perfecting Love.
That is Good, indeed.