So, what is so good about Good Friday anyway?
The first Good Friday was anything but good. It is only good to us because we usually do not like to linger on Friday and we rush straight to Sunday. The first disciples did not know that the coming Sunday would be different from any other Sunday. They had no idea that Friday was not the end of the story. As far as they were concerned, if there was going to be more to the story, it would most likely be the continuing story of how each of them were hunted down and crucified by the Romans. That is what Romans did. They never killed the leader of a movement and allowed the movement to continue. They never killed a leader and let the followers continue. That only creates martyrs, and martyrs are ideas and ideas are hard to fight and harder still to kill.
How did they get to Friday anyway. A few days before, huge crowds were cheering Jesus as a coming king. A day before they were all eating together. That’s when things really took a sharp turn for the bad. We have all read enough literature or seen enough movies to know that a scene around a dinner table is going to get pretty dramatic pretty quickly. When dinner was over, they went to the usual spot on the Mount of Olives. Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and sat them down and told them to pray, but they did not know that this night was any different than any other night. It is sort of ironic since that is one of the questions to be asked at the Passover dinner: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Peter and the others could have asked Jesus the same question, not because it was Passover, but because Jesus was so clearly agitated. “Why? Why is he so worked up? Why is this night different from any other night?”
Jesus is then arrested, beaten, put on trial by the religious leaders, beaten by them, sent to Pilate, beaten by the guards — they beat him with the reed they used as a mock scepter. He was then whipped by the lash (the lash was a leather whip with many strands that had sharp metal and sharp hooks, so he was not simply whipped, he was whipped with something that dug into his flesh and pulled chunks of it off) — people often died at 40 lashes, so the Roman would whip people with 39 lashes, just to the point of death but not quite. Then after all that, he was nailed to a cross.
It seems like a good day for evil. It is a good day for pain, suffering, and unnecessary, senseless brutality. It is a good day for death. It is a good day for power structures, for powerful institutions. It is a good day for jealousy, bigotry, and hatred. It is a good day for the status quo of the way of the world. But it is a tragic day for Jesus. It is a tragic day for the disciples. It is a tragic day for hope, for love, for justice, for compassion, for mercy — all these things suffer brutality and die on that Good Friday.
And as far as anyone can guess and predict, it is all over. Everything the disciples had done and worked for was beaten, whipped, and hung on a cross to die. And they were not only left with the tragedy of losing a mentor, a teacher, and a friend, but they were left with nothing to show for any of it, except the fear that any one of them would be next.
That is Good Friday in its original sense. Good Friday is ultimate defeat; it is pain, and suffering; it is tragic loss and disappointment and denials and fear. And Saturday was more of the same.
As we approach Sunday morning, make sure you stop on Friday, and even still on Saturday. Forget Sunday is coming because on the first Good Friday they have no idea that Sunday morning was going to be a game changer. They had no idea that on Sunday morning, the powers of the world, and the bigotries, and the death were all going to be shown for what they really are — nothing. They are nothing because the only power anything this world has over you is to kill you. Once you are dead, NOTHING in this world has any power over you any more. Jesus stood up to the world — he challenged the power structures of the world and the world through its institutions meted out its worst punishment. It killed him. And then Jesus got up and said, “What else do you got?” and the world had nothing. The world did its worst and it wasn’t enough. And if we share in the promise of resurrection, then there is nothing that this world can do to us any more. We are free because the power of the world to kill is nothing compared to the power of God to give life.
What is so good about Good Friday? Nothing if we do not know about the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Sunday. But knowing that Sunday is coming, we can look at Good Friday as if Jesus is playing chess with the world. The world just made a bold move that looks like it has Jesus beaten. But the world does not see that that Jesus will have Check Mate in three days.