It feels like the saddest day of the year. But it’s part of the feast of Easter.
I remember singing a service in chapel choir back in college with a friend who knew nothing of the Crucifixion story. Her eyes widened as she heard it read. At the end she turned to me, in tears, and said, “It’s so sad.”
It is sad. Good Friday feels like the saddest day of the year. Quite frankly I don’t look forward to going to church on Good Friday at all. I’d almost rather skip it and rush headlong to Easter. And yet, how can you really celebrate the Resurrection without fully acknowledging the Crucifixion? It’s a bit like skipping dinner and going straight to dessert. Good Friday is part of the Feast of Easter.
1) Read the story.
Even if you don’t go to church on this holiest of days, find some time to read or listen to the story. It’s in all four gospels (Matthew 26:47-27:66; Mark 14:43-15:47; Luke 22:47-23:56; John 18:1-19:37). Every time I look at it, I find there is a different part that speaks to me. Perhaps the saddest aspect of the story is the way the disciples simply disappear. Even if Jesus knew that would happen, how awful it would be to feel abandoned by those you love most.
2) Meditate on a line.
These are the words that define our faith, whether it be Peter suddenly remembering Jesus telling him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times” or Pilate wishing to wash his hands of the whole thing asking, “What is truth?” or the crowd crying “Crucify Him!” or the repentant thief asking, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” or Jesus’ own words on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” Not for nothing is this story called “the Passion.” It engages our passions for forgiveness, understanding, love, peace.
3) Put yourself there.
We always sing the spiritual “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” on Good Friday. The answer to that rhetorical question is a resounding and disturbing yes. In an average week–and not Holy Week–I can find myself as scared as the disciples, evasive as Pilate, as angry as that crowd, as in need of repentance as that thief and yes, as despairing as Jesus.
4) Shed your tears.
There was an ancient Armenian woman who would come to our church to pray, often in the middle of the week when no one was there. We have a startling image of a young dreadlocked Jesus on the cross in the back of the church, and she was known to stand before the painting with her face pressed against the glass, praying. Once after she left the minister walked over to it and noticed her tears left on the glass, right at Jesus’ face.
Our Lord is one who understands our suffering, not simply from a pie-in-the-sky abstract notion but from a first-hand experience of extreme mortification. When my friend Nigel Mumford says “If you’re throwing a pity party, invite Jesus to it,” he means this Jesus, this God who became man so that He could walk with us through any suffering we would face. It is the hardest and most profound lesson of Good Friday. Cry with Jesus. You’re not crying alone.