Celebrating Good Friday

Today is “Good Friday”, in which we celebrate the crucifixion of Jesus. First, it’s worth considering the words of poet W.H. Auden:

Just as we are all, potentially, in Adam when he fell, so we were all, potentially, in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday before there was an Easter, a Pentecost, a Christian, or a Church. It seems to me worthwhile asking ourselves who we should have been and what we should have been doing. None of us, I’m certain, will imagine himself as one of the Disciples, cowering in agony of spiritual despair and physical terror. Very few of us are big wheels enough to see ourselves as Pilate, or good churchmen enough to see ourselves as a member of the Sanhedrin. In my most optimistic mood I see myself as a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria visiting an intellectual friend. We are walking along, engaged in philosophical argument. Our path takes us past the base of Golgotha. Looking up, we see an all too familiar sight – three crosses surrounded by a jeering crowd. Frowning with prim distaste, I say, ‘It’s disgusting the way the mob enjoy such things. Why can’t the authorities execute people humanely and in private by giving them hemlock to drink, as they did with Socrates?’ Then, averting my eyes from the disagreeable spectacle, I resume our fascinating discussion about the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

Auden’s point is spot-on. It does us no good today to take a passing glance and then look away. But why do we call today “Good”, a day to “celebrate”? Three words: “It is finished.” Those words of Jesus, as he ended his course on that blood cross. “It is finished”: all our guilt for sin – finished:

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 3:13-15)

So look again. To paraphrase one theologian, the cross intended to show the might of Roman power. But instead, the cross displayed God’s might, making Christ King, triumphing over sin. Good Friday is a day of grief, and yet worthy of celebration more than any other day, save Easter. For on the cross we see the True, the Good and the Beautiful.