How can there be anything good about Good Friday?
It’s easy for me to celebrate Easter. I love reliving the story’s happy ending, seeing the empty tomb in my mind’s eye, hearing the shouts of “He is risen!” I love the festive egg hunts and family dinners and exuberant songs as we party in honor of the Resurrection. I know how to call Sunday “good.”
But how can I possibly celebrate today?
Today is the day we betrayed You. It’s the day an innocent victim was executed on false charges by a corrupt justice system. Five days earlier, crowds had welcomed their Messiah with palm branches and praises—today, crowds turned on Him and called for His crucifixion. Today is the day Jesus drank from the cup He had begged might be taken from Him, the day the sun’s light failed and the temple curtain was torn and God Himself looked away. Today is a funeral in memory of a promising young man’s tragic death.
The soundtrack of Good Friday isn’t an anthem or a victory cry. It’s the chanting of a bloodthirsty mob, the words “Crucify him!” over and over again, biting like a whip. It’s the terrified, heartbroken sobs of Jesus’ few remaining followers, clutching one another as they stood at the foot of His cross and watched Him die.
Good Friday is a day for mourning. And I’m not much good at mourning.
I always want to skip ahead to the happy ending. I want to put a 5-minute time limit on tears and then race back to laughter, pretend that the pain ever happened. Too often, I’m guilty of believing that the Resurrection means Jesus’ death no longer matters. I forget all about sin and redemption because I’m too busy planning the resurrection party.
Too often, I’m guilty of living as if I can scrub Good Friday out of the history books altogether.
But You, God, have called me to a faith that includes both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. You call me to remember both death and resurrection. Because either one, without the other, would be meaningless.
Today is part of the gospel. Today is good news. Jesus didn’t wait until Easter morning to conquer sin and death. He was already crushing them as He hung on the cross. His dying words weren’t an admission of defeat but a declaration of victory, like an artist stepping back to behold a masterpiece with His final breath: “It is finished.”
On Good Friday, Jesus turned the world’s system upside down, losing everything in order to win everything. Death greedily swallowed up a perfect victim, destroying itself in the process. Heaven’s heartbreak bought earth’s redemption. It was the perfect storm: an unspeakable loss, an incomparable victory.
How can I do anything but rejoice?
How can I do anything but weep?
Today, God, I ask that You would teach me to mourn. Don’t let me rush to Easter Sunday too quickly. Give me grace to linger here, in the place where sorrow meets redemption. Make Your death as real to me as Your resurrection. Keep me always near the cross.
As I wait at the foot of the cross, God, reveal to me again the costliness of my sin. Don’t let me live in an imaginary world where Easter’s happy ending makes my selfishness irrelevant. Remind me that Your all-consuming grace came at a highest price. Forgive me for the times I’ve lived as if sin is no big deal, as if Good Friday never really happened.
Fill me with the joy and sorrow and reverence and gratitude that befit a Good Friday funeral: joy for Your victory, sorrow for Your death, reverence for Your holiness, gratitude for Your grace. Don’t let me settle for just one of those emotions at the expense of the others. Give me a heart big enough to hold them all in tension. Make me bold enough to search after a truth that’s really true, not just a truth that fits easily in the palm of my hand.
Give me eyes, God, to see the triumph of the cross. Even when all seems lost, even as I mourn Your death, remind me that You conquered the grave by sneaking inside of it and unraveling it from the inside out. In the midst of defeat and disappointment, sing songs of victory over me. Turn my world on its head so I can recognize the upside-down Kingdom of God at work.
Jesus, You tell me to take up my cross and follow You. Today more than ever, I remember what a weighty invitation that is. You won by dying—and it’s only by dying that I can follow in Your footsteps. It’s only by dying that I’ll ever truly come alive.
Teach me, God, to mourn and celebrate Your death. Then take me by the hand, lead me into my own death, and teach me to mourn and celebrate that death too. Amen.
Gregory Coles is an author and an English instructor at Penn State University. Learn more at www.gregorycoles.com.
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