Searching for the Meaning of “Good” Friday

Good-Friday-11I’ve never been quite sure what the “good” in Good Friday meant. Perhaps we see beyond the pain, torture and death of Christ to the event of Easter. We live in those awful moments not in the moment itself, but in the promise of Sunday.

That seems to trivialize it a bit for me, and it doesn’t satisfy. I know that the Passover, celebrated as the Last Supper by Christians is that wonderful celebration by Jews of the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It celebrates freedom. And no doubt as the Synoptic Gospels relate, this date for the Last Supper of Jesus (the first night of Passover) serves to symbolize our liberation from sin.

John changes the mix a bit by placing the Last Supper not on the first night of Passover, but the day before, when the lambs are slain for the meal. He likens Jesus to the lamb slain. The general symbolism remains the same.

I am not a believer of substitutionary sin–the theory that Jesus took upon himself our sins and died for them– a demand of a God who requires payment for a sinful world. Such a God, to me at least, is both harsh and ugly–sending his own son to die in the most horrible of ways.

Rather I see, (note that these ideas are surely not my own, but are the theology of many a learned scholar and teacher as well as believers) that Jesus by his willingness to die for his beliefs, shows us the perfect way to engage with this creator we call God. Jesus, in dying, pays the ultimate price for principle, the foundational principle of life–love, no matter what the cost.

For this is the essence of the God that Jesus points us towards. A God who is unimpressed by formulaic ritual and a God saddened by our tendencies to divide ourselves into groups of “saved” “faithful” or “pious” and all others who somehow by human standards fail to reach the mark. So saddened is God by our divisiveness that Jesus shows through his willingness to endure scorn, beating and tortuous death, that even the least among us is worthy of dying for.

As we struggle in our daily lives to come to grips with the deep agonies that divide us as a people and as a world, Jesus on the Cross, stands as testament to the strength that we too can express if we are willing to take up that Cross ourselves and stand for love at all costs.

Jesus stands against those whose primary goal is to protect “number one”. He stands against those who are motivated by greed, self-preservation, and egotistical individual ruggedness. He points the way to a God of grace and love, who calls us daily to be bigger than our selves in our love of brother and sister. This God, so real, so in love with His creation that He becomes one of us, in an effort to show us, by his teaching, suffering and death, what He is really all about.

I speak not of Jesus as the son of God, but as the Son of Man, for the reality or fantasy of Jesus as the incarnate God is beside the point really. If Jesus is so infused with the Spirit of the Transcendent One, then it matters not the creeds we dutifully recite each Sunday. Jesus moved aside as human, and allowed the Spirit of God to envelop him so completely that God really was among us.

All the more important that we be especially careful to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of the Church. More and more I find them quite different beings, with quite different agendas. After having read much, I am still in love with Paul and his exuberance for the Gospel, but I recognize that Paul molded the ensuing Church and molded Jesus into that Church. I’m not so sure that it is the Jesus of history whom he never met in the flesh.

We must comb the Gospels carefully I think to find that Jesus–that gentle yet firebrand individual who sought to bring all into the house of God, as true and perfect children. He tenderly attended to the needs of the most broken and rejected in society without asking of them anything in return, other than to put God first in their lives. His anger was invoked by those whom he saw as impeding the people in their attempt to know their God. He pointed the finger and accused them of having lost all sense of why they were doing what they did. It had all become for show, for power, and for accolades.

True piety rested with the many Marys who lived with the Master, the self-less women who sat at his feet, absorbing his wisdom, who anointed his head, washed his feet, and knelt at the foot of the cross, and ultimately went to dress his broken and dead body, and found to their amazement that his real presence washed over them.

If we learn anything from the Friday, called Good, it is that we too can approach God in these simple acts of service–not by asking questions about who deserves and who doesn’t deserve our acts, but in simply being willing to give in love, knowing that the Spirit of God inhabits each and every one of God’s created beings.

Have a blessed Easter Time.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aliceny
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 11:17:03

    I am a little disappointed in today’s post, Sherry. For one thing, you use Thomas Blackshear’s stunning artwork, “Forgiven,” (from his Masterpiece art collection) without citing the proper copyright notice. I’ve given several copies of this picture as gifts and have a small stack of prayer cards that I give out as I think appropriate. All contain the required copyright notice. It is fair and just, as well as legally necessary, to give credit to the original artist, or to the current copyright holder whomever that may be.

    Some of the points that you make are spiritually very powerful and certainly conducive to meditation on this “Good” Friday.

    Secondly, Your comment about the controversial, heretical theory of “substitutionary sin” needs documentation. You state twice that [this concept] is “the theology of many a learned scholar and teacher.” Who are they?
    This statement needs to have your sources cited — at the very least, their names should be given so that your readers may follow through for additional information if they want to..

    Pax et Bonum, Sherry.

    P.S. I retired after 30 years as a research librarian and also taught Scripture in my parish for 15 years.


  2. aliceny
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 11:25:17

    I meant to say that you state twice that you are not a believer nor are these ideas [of substitutionary sin] yours. The words, “you state twice that” preceding…”this concept is the theology of many…” should be deleted. I apologize. My keyboard is having a breakdown today!


  3. Tim
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 09:22:06

    Sherry, thank you so much for this. It turns out that while you were working on your post I was working with one that also dealt with the issue of substitutionary sin, which as a believer (like you) I also struggle with. And we are not alone in this, dear friend. My pastor and several first-rate theologians who attend and teach at our church, with credentials to burn, consistently reinforce your thoughts here. It’s fine poetry, I guess, to envision Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, but that also places God in collusion with His accusers and murderers, a dicey proposition at best, if we believe that God is just. I love that Paul says Jesus became sin, which is a different thing entirely than symbolizing it in the same way that animal sacrifices do in the OT. And Paul is consistent in linking that with the resurrection. What happens on the cross is Act One of a two-act drama that points us toward total transformation. Jesus was no substitute for anything. He was the thing itself, and believing that is what empowers us to believe He is the Bread of Life. And this radical belief is what separates Old and New Testaments, and explains why the Temple veil into the Holy of holies was rent in two when He died. This is an entirely new paradigm foreshadowed by Mosaic ritual, but hardly defined by it.

    If we make Calvary all about Jesus, its lesson is lost. He is in every way an example for us, just as you say here. And just as He says, by continually reminding us that we can only find life by willingly surrendering it. The Crucifixion is a defiant act of justice carried out by Jesus, which turns Him into victor over unrighteousness rather than its victim. That’s a hard lesson to learn and accept. But it is a beautiful way to live.

    Keep on keeping on, dear friend. You are a light in a dusty, literal-minded world!

    Many blessings and Happy Easter,

    PS: You are far braver than I on this topic. I got so deep in the weeds I chucked the post and went a different way. 😉


    • Sherry
      Apr 01, 2013 @ 09:11:32

      Tim, if you decided to write on this topic, it would no doubt be brilliant. It was always a troubling concept for me, and I was glad in my studies to come across a better explanation for Christ’s death. Given the large number of modern theologians who adopt it now, I have little doubt that provides a more loving and theologically logical answer certainly. If one can be “theologically logical”! lol..what a sentence I wrote. Any way, it certainly makes me at ease with this Jesus and this God. Now on to a few other trouble spots–like Abraham’s near infancide before God stopped his hand. That’s another problem area, I’ve not yet completely worked out. Help! Blessings.


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