One Spring, while I was in college, I went to spend the Easter weekend with a friend in a different town. We got in late on Thursday evening, and when I got up on Friday, his mother fixed me a nice big breakfast. While I was eating it, I noticed I was the only one, but I assumed everyone else had already had theirs. Then a younger brother came wandering into the kitchen eating a Pop Tart. His mother nearly screamed, “What are you doing? This is Good Friday!” Although I knew my friend was Catholic, before that moment I had never really met a strongly devout Catholic family. The younger brother had ignored the fact that on Good Friday, it was a day of fasting for all good Catholics, and he broke hundreds of years of Catholic teaching with a strawberry Pop Tart.
But I was still sitting there with eggs, bacon, toast and hashbrowns. Although no one said anything, at that moment it felt like I was going to hell. Well-fed, but still on the way. His mother looked at me, and must have seen my concern for my mortal soul, and she said, “Oh don’t you worry – Methodists eat all the time! You don’t need to starve just because you are in our home today…” I quickly sort of finished my meal, and silently committed myself to not have any lunch. Of course, when we went to church that evening, everyone else “ate” the communion elements, but they weren’t offered to me, being the non-Catholic that I am.
I expect each of us finds our worship and our traditions and our ordinances in our own way. Even when I was serving in a local church, it was amazing how many Catholics would come forward in our Protestant sanctuary, make the sign of the cross and share communion. It always seemed sort of like eating out – the meal is the same, but the restaurant is different.
I’ve always been captivated by Good Friday. I don’t believe there is another day in our faith history so well recorded as to what happened when, and how. The only trouble with preaching today, is that you have to leave out so much to focus on one thing – otherwise, you’ll never be able to cover the waterfront of so much rich material.
When I was growing up, we were part of the Air Force Chapel system, and for some reason, everyone called today “Black Friday.” It wasn’t until years later that I even heard the term “Good Friday,” and it was always a puzzlement as to why such a day would be “good.” Of course, I’m not a party to calling anything tragic or sad, “black,” as though that’s the bad color…
But it’s worthwhile to ask the question of “Why good?” Over the centuries, besides black and good, the day has been called “Holy Friday,” “Great Friday,” “Great and Holy Friday (I guess to cover all bases),” and adjectives like that. I still come back to “good.”
Well, not to give too long a word history lesson, but let’s go ahead. Words of course mean things, but their roots often carry meanings far different than where we are right now. Today, if we call something “good,” it’s a relative kind of praise – it’s not great or spectacular, but it also isn’t “bad,” or horrible. When the word first came around, however, most likely in the Old English, it arrived as “god,” but with a long “o” – kind of like “gold” without pronouncing the “l.” The word at that time meant excellent, fine, entire or complete. As it walked though our language history, at one time, it carried the sense of something being pious or holy. Have you ever wondered why we call the Bible “the good book?” It doesn’t mean that it’s pretty okay, or passable – it carries the same definition as “holy.”
English speaking folks also over the centuries got lazy in pronouncing phrases, so that especially, “God be with ye,” ended up being “God be ye,” and then finally, “good bye.”
So, when we come around to “Good” Friday, it’s not a description of how the day is in the 21st Century – it’s recalling, with one word, the powerfully holy and deeply connected to God kind of day that it is. And it indeed is so. This is the one day of the year where we stop and recall the death of our Savior. We call the images to mind, of beatings, a crown of thorns, the struggle to drag a cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, and then the nails, and the humiliation of hanging and suffocating, of sharing a few important words, and then “breathing his last.” This was never that Jesus lived a long happy life and shared his wisdom on how to live a good life, as a philosopher or teacher. No – he was killed – murdered because the powers that be that controlled both the nation of Israel and the empire of Rome, would not tolerate the sense that he was a King – and the very Son of God.
So – no, today is not “good” –and the only way to apply that word to today means we must stand back and look at the day from the widest view possible, and see that all the horrible “things” that happened still served a much more holy and powerful purpose. Through the worst thing in the world that Jesus had to endure, we received the best eternal thing in the universe and beyond. The gift of his life has become the gift FOR our lives, as God shows there is nothing beyond what God would do – for you. Even the death of a son. On such a “Good” – and holy and powerfully God-filled – Friday as this is.
Take time to holy today – to speak with God, and to live thankfully for the gift that is ours on this Good Friday.
Word for the day: triduum. Lots of ways to pronounce this truly Latin word, and it depends on when in history you were living, since the pronunciation of Latin words changed in the Middle ages – like excelsis went from “ex-KEL-sis,” to “egg-SHELL-cease.” Today’s word is best pronounced, TRID-you-um, although some will say “TRY-doh-um.” Anyway, the word comes from two Latin words, tri, meaning “three,” and dies, meaning “days.” Simply, it’s three days. In the Catholic Church, the season of Lent (with the color purple) ends on Thursday, then there is a three-day (triduum) period with color black being predominant, in which Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are found. Then, of course, Sunday brings Easter in white, and the season of resurrection.
So, whether Catholic or not, we are in Triduum, where the whole focus of the salvation history of the Bible comes together before our very eyes.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.