Good Friday, Better Sunday

Rembrandt Christ on the CrossToday Christians observe Good Friday, one of the most important days of the Christian calendar. Work will be set aside, worship services will be attended, and sombre reflection will mix with effusive joy in celebration of this “Good Friday.”

But to the close followers of Jesus of Nazareth nearly 2,000 years ago, that particular Friday was anything but “good.”

Things had certainly looked good earlier in the week. Jesus’ popularity appeared to be at an all-time high, with many Passover pilgrims and native Judeans cheering on this intriguing Galilean prophet in his entry to the city, his protest in the Temple courts, and his confrontations with the religious leaders. Jesus’ odd words on the way to Jerusalem (“The son of man must suffer and die”…?) had seemed even more peculiar in light of this new-found honour being granted him in the holy city. Surely Jesus’ earlier pessimism (“Every prophet must die in Jerusalem”…?) had been unwarranted, for here he had found the power and influence he needed to bring about God’s kingdom, to establish the saving sovereignty of God among his people.

But now Jesus—their prophet, their teacher, even their hoped-for Messiah—had been arrested, charged with crimes ranging from blasphemy to sedition. Most of his followers had scattered in fear, terrified of facing similar indictments and the prospect of a similar fate. In the end Jesus was condemned according to both Jewish and Roman law, physically tortured, publicly humiliated, and proficiently crucified. At a time when Jesus’ followers should have been celebrating God’s past deliverance of his oppressed people during Passover, when they had even dared to hope for God’s present deliverance of his oppressed people through his Messiah, they were instead left in despair, terror, and shame.

No, that Friday was anything but “good” for those first followers of Jesus.

But Sunday changed all that.

Rembrandt Christ ResurrectedThe early morning discovery of the empty tomb and the successive appearances of Jesus to his followers convinced them that he had been resurrected by God. In an instant, legal condemnation was turned into divine vindication. Shame and humiliation were suddenly transformed into honour and glory. Oppression and defeat were changed unexpectedly into freedom and victory. Fear became faith, despair hope, and hatred love. Death was swallowed up in life. In the light of the resurrection, Jesus’ crucifixion could no longer be viewed as a terrible human tragedy but rather as the supreme divine irony, a God-ordained paradox of glory through shame, strength through weakness, freedom through surrender, life through death, deliverance through crucifixion. The darkest day in history had been illuminated in the spotlight of the brightest of days, and that Friday could forever be called “very good.”

We still find ourselves in the place of those first followers of Jesus, caught between death and resurrection, stuck on Friday afternoon with Sunday morning yet to come. The never-ending Friday of this present age doesn’t look all that “good” to us—we see condemnation, shame, oppression, fear, despair, hatred, and death all around us, and even experience a good bit of this ourselves.

But Sunday has already come—and will come again—and that reality illuminates all the dark Fridays of our lives. The resurrection of Jesus Christ brings significance to our suffering; it may still be horrible, even horrific suffering at times, make no mistake of that, but as the death of Jesus is revealed in the sufferings of God’s people and his creation, the life of Jesus is increasingly displayed through the people of God in anticipation of the full redemption of creation. Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus Christ compels us to enact resurrection daily—to bring forgiveness to the condemned, honour to the shamed, freedom to the oppressed, faith to those paralyzed by fear, hope to those devoured by despair, love to those consumed by hate, and life for the sick and the dying. The resurrection of Jesus Christ summons us forward, from the darkness of this world’s Fridays, through the gloom of this world’s Saturdays, into the glorious eternal Sunday of God’s new creation, with his saving sovereignty displayed throughout the earth.

It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that enables us to say, even in the midst of our darkest Fridays, though very often with a sightless faith: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And so, it is indeed a very Good Friday.

This post first appeared on an earlier blog of mine back in March 2008. Also cross-posted from © Michael W. Pahl.