Holy Week Thought #2 — Good Friday
April 17, 2014
Here are a few Good Friday factoids for you.
Good Friday has been around since the beginning of the church. For the first three centuries, Christians commemorated Jesus’ death every Friday. (Friday Fish Fries are only distantly related to this church phenomenon.)
In the early fourth century, the Friday before Easter was designated as the official commemoration of Jesus’ death in the calendar of the Church.
That Friday, through the centuries, has gone through several name changes including “Great,” “Holy” “Long” and “Sorrowful” Friday.
Believe it or not it wasn’t until late in the eleventh century and Saint Anselm that the “satisfaction theory of the atonement” or “Jesus died for our sins,” became commonly accepted. When “Jesus died for our sins,” is mixed with Good Friday and the commemoration of Jesus’ death, out pops a day that obsesses over suffering and sin. For many people—me being one of them—spending a day focusing on suffering and sin doesn’t cut it any longer.
What is it about humankind? We seem to be attracted to death. The historical accounts of public hangings in medieval England or the Wild Wild West of the United States testify to this. Hundreds of people would attend these events. It was almost like a big party. Some would even bring lunches! Not to be outdone, the Church executed hundreds of heretics by burning them at the stake—because it was “wrong” to shed blood. Again people thronged to these spectacles. Excuse me, but that’s just gross and morbid!
For some Christians, though, Good Friday Services seemed quite similar to the hangings and burnings of yesteryear. Hear the nail being driven through Jesus’ wrists. Watch him writhe in agony. Listen to his final words, “Father why have you forsaken me,” and his dying breath, “It is finished.” If you want to get an extra boost for your Christian faith this Good Friday and overdose on violence and gore you can do so by viewing Mel Gibson’s, enormously popular “The Passion of the Christ.”
I don’t deny that Jesus suffered tremendously, and I don’t want to take away from what Jesus endured. I don’t think, though, that Jesus’ suffering is the main point of Good Friday. It’s more important, inspiring, and empowering to concentrate on Jesus’ love. His execution was the result of his proclaiming love rather than hate, inclusion rather than exclusion, forgiveness rather than revenge, and justice rather than injustice. What great love Jesus displayed by not turning tail and running away, and by not breaking down and turning to violence. Jesus endured the cross because of his love for all of creation—including you and me.
The other regular activity of Good Friday is to meditate on one’s sin. I’m not a great advocate of spending one or two hours focusing on sin. Most people are well aware of their sinfulness. We have mothers and mothers-in-law (and sometimes spouses) who are disappointed in us. We didn’t meet the expectations of our fathers. Our teenagers, co-workers, and bosses reminded us regularly that we haven’t done it right. We have that little voice inside of our heads that tells us we’re not good and if people really knew what we were like they would run from us like a gazelle from a cheetah. Why take a couple of hours to beat ourselves up by reviewing how we have sinned in all of our thoughts words and deeds, by what we have done and what we have left undone.
This Good Friday, I will sit in awe at the immensity of God’s love. I will also celebrate my worth. After God had created everything, God sat back and declared that it was all good. That proclamation of goodness included humankind. God has also decided—for some unknown reason—that people are worthy of God’s love. People are worthy of being brought into God’s family, and identified as children of God. People are good and people have worth.
This is not to deny that we are also broken people—we certainly aren’t perfect. And, yes, we have done and said some pretty bad stuff. Still God considers us worthy of God’s love.
Nothing—absolutely nothing—is going to change God’s decision that we are worthy. God’s decision about God’s relationship with us was sealed on the cross. Wow, now that is something to think about!
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