Why the grief of Good Friday is just as important to observe as the joy of Easter Sunday. By Natasha Bredle, contributing writer and editor.
Holy Week is one of tumultuous emotions. There’s the anticipatory celebration of the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the visceral anger Jesus expresses in the temple courts when He drives out the merchants capitalizing there on Holy Monday, the bitter shock and dismay of Judas’ decision to betray Jesus on Holy Wednesday, and the somber finality of the serving of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. On the spectrum of joyful to solemn emotions, however, no day of Holy Week is more saturated with suffering, grief, fear, longing, and loss than Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Many Christians will subconsciously trade the sweeping emotions of Good Friday for the joy, hope, and peace promised on Easter Sunday, when we commemorate the rolling away of the stone by singing, “Allelujah, He is risen!” There is certainly nothing wrong about this joy-filled proclamation. As Christians, we are sustained by this foundation of our faith, the promise that Jesus has overcome sin and the grave. But is it important to remember what came before our salvation: our need of rescuing. What came before Heaven’s victory: what was, in the moment, a defeat.
We know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and eternal. We call Him by names such as the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, and the Lord of Most High. By no means did our all-mighty God have to take on flesh and dwell among us. He did not have to humble Himself, suffer persecution, and offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Yet God chose to. Why? Because He loves us (John 3:16.) Because He loves us so much, Jesus paid the wages for our sin (Romans 6:23) which we never could have offered ourselves (Ephesians 2:8.) Without the unparalleled act of love, mercy, and grace Jesus performed upon the cross, we would never have been able to cross the distance sin puts between us and God. Yes, always and forever we should celebrate that our Savior conquered the grave and rose up to life again. But let us never forget what had to come before the resurrection: death.
Were You There is a hymn that does well at capturing the emotions of Good Friday. It invites us to envision the crucifixion as it occurs, to become witnesses to our Savior’s suffering. The question “Were you there?” repeated in every stanza connotes something other than having physical presence, because of course, no one in our age could have been alive at the time of Jesus’ death. But believing Christ died for our sins means believing that it truly was a facet of ourselves that Christ shouldered when He bore our transgressions on the cross.
‘Being there’ when they crucified our Lord, nailed Him to the tree, and laid Him in the tomb, as the lyrics of the song digress, could mean allowing ourselves to feel the full weight of the emotions of Good Friday this Holy Week. It could mean letting ourselves become overwhelmed by God’s self-sacrificing love for us, taking a moment to weep and mourn the unblemished Lamb who was slain. As the hymn refrains: oh, oh, oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Good Friday doesn’t have to be a completely grief-stricken day. But understanding how God perceives us and why we profess Jesus Christ to be our savior begins with recognizing the gravity of what happened on the cross. The tumultuous emotions of the days of Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday should not be perceived as something to be avoided or suppressed. Rather, we should remain open to them and allow ourselves to experience fully all that the crucifixion evokes. We know that in three days’ time, the Lamb who was slain will become the Lion who conquered the grave. But for as long as Good Friday lasts, it’s okay to tremble.