Today is Good Friday, also referred to as Holy Friday or Great Friday, the day throughout church history that we have commemorated the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. It is a day that is rich in Christian tradition and most church denominations include in their observances a rehearsal of the sufferings of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate, the carrying of His cross to the place of the Skull, or “Golgotha” in Hebrew and in Latin “Calvary” and His crucifixion and death there.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus agonized on the cross for six hours before his death and during the last three hours, from noon to three there was darkness over the entire land. At that time Jesus cried out “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?” and shortly after uttered another loud cry and breathed His last.
Of course all the varied Good Friday observance traditions, as with Maundy Thursday, are rooted in the oldest of Christian expressions which come from the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Churches. Many practices, such as the veneration of the cross, Stations of the Cross, fasting and acts of repentance all stem from these traditions.
Around the world, many countries with strong Christian traditions have for years legislated customs to venerate the day, such as declaring public holidays, closing public and private businesses, stock markets, schools and colleges, as well as restricting media, (radio & TV) particularly marking the three o’clock hour that Jesus died. Of course with increased secularization these public observances are being met with greater and greater opposition.
Growing up, my formative experience and view of Good Friday was through the lens of the Catholic Church. Because of the somberness of the ritual involved on that day with the strong focus on the passion and cross of Christ I developed a deep reverence which I carry to this day, for what Jesus went through in suffering and dying for me. I can remember as a child girding myself to endure the long passion account readings and protracted meditations and prayers of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. It was as though we were being invited in, to suffer and endure with Jesus. I can also recall on a number of Good Fridays the ominous concurrence of dark stormy skies around the three o’clock hour as if the heavens themselves were bearing witness to the remembrance of His suffering and death. All this to say, that in retrospect, those somber Good Friday observances and a healthy fear of God are the two things I am most thankful for in my Catholic upbringing.
It was not until I was in my mid twenties that I finally came to an understanding of the true meaning of Good Friday. God used those seeds of truth coupled with my miserable self effort and inability to live a life worthy of such sacrifice to prepare my heart to hear the Gospel message. When I came to realize the free gift of salvation that was paid for through what Jesus did that Good Friday it revolutionized my life. I was able to accept by faith His suffering and death in my stead and the forgiveness of my sins and receive the gift of eternal life. That is what makes Good Friday so GOOD!