“Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:46 (NRSV)
Good Friday was a day I dreaded when I was growing up. I was raised in the American Lutheran tradition (now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church). In the Midwest, we didn’t have a February or April vacation like we do here on the East Coast of the United States. What we did have as a spring break was a long week-end around Easter. On Maundy Thursday, we were dismissed from school early, and we had Good Friday and Easter Monday off.
Good Friday meant spending three hours in church for the afternoon during the church’s tradition of 1-3 pm when Jesus hung on the cross. I remember one of the songs we sang was made up of what I thought had to be a hundred verses, and we heard scripture, then sang one of the verses. Good Friday was far from good for me as a young child, but then, I was basing it on the amount of time I had to sit during what I considered a boring and useless worship service.
I really didn’t get the significance of Good Friday until I was much older. Oh, I knew that it was the day Jesus had died on the cross, but on Easter we celebrated his resurrection when he was alive again, so it was no big deal, really – right? What was so “good” about Good Friday?
As a pastor I have had a number of people ask me that question, and I encourage them to think about what happened on that day and why we remember it. It isn’t so much that it was a good thing that Jesus was tried and crucified, or that he was betrayed by one of his disciples and abandoned by the rest. That’s something that’s really not so great. Yet, most of us can probably understand the feeling of betrayal and abandonment in our lives. Jesus obviously did, too.
What was the “good” thing was that Jesus’ death on the cross meant that we were reconciled to God, that his death opened the door for us to receive forgiveness of sins. Sin is nasty stuff. The world is a sinful place. We all are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. In the gospels we read that, at Jesus’ death, the curtain was torn in two – symbolic of God’s presence being opened to the world, including Gentiles (and that includes most of us). The Jewish thought was that God lived in the temple, and that the Holy of Holies was where God could be found. Only priests were allowed to enter and only at certain times and after following certain purification rituals. The priests were the intercessors for the people of Israel.
Jesus death on the cross ripped apart the idea that God was inaccessible to ordinary human beings. Jesus was God in the flesh – touchable, accessible, even huggable. He made God real to us. When we look at Jesus, we see God which makes it a little more tangible for us. When Jesus died, God symbolically burst forth into ALL the world, for ALL people. God could not be contained in the Holy of Holies, not in human form, not in our own little boxes into which we try to put God, not into anything restrictive. God is everywhere, and always available.
What was “good” about Good Friday? God in Christ broke the bonds of sin for humanity, and on Easter, we are set free even from death. That’s Good News!