“Good” Friday. Plenty has been written about this strange name for the day Jesus was supposedly killed — honestly, we don’t know what day of the week it was, and frankly, any day could have done the job. We needed a certain day to match our certain rituals of remembrance; we picked Friday.
The “good” part may have derived from “God’s Friday”, which makes a certain sense if “goodbye” is a foreshortened version of “God be with you”. Or the leap from God (if that is indeed where it started) to good may have occurred as simply as many language changes do: someone misspoke (or was mis-heard), listeners took up the error and the rest is vocabulary history.
Whatever the source of its name, theologians have been twirling like dervishes for centuries, trying to fit the good of Good Friday into church doctrine.
Here is the type of reasoning generally offered: “… despite—indeed because of—its sadness, Good Friday is truly good. Its sorrow is a godly sorrow.” And later in the same article: “I like to think the linguistic accident that made ‘God’s Friday’ into ‘Good Friday’ was no accident at all. It was God’s own doing—a sharp, prophetic jab at a time and a culture obsessed by happiness.” [Chris Armstrong, Christianity Today Newsletter, 2003.]
I find this sort of reasoning troublesome. We often put words in God’s mouth to help us out when we face the pieces of our tradition that make no sense.
Certainly some folks were happy in that time and culture, some probably excessively so; but many more were poor, downtrodden, sick, discounted by social, church and political hierarchies. Those people suffered the same societal ills that we do in terms of haves and have-nots — the evils inherent in that disparity was one of Jesus’ favorite preaching themes.
My own “good” ramblings are brief, and are tied to the entomological roots of the word, in part from Sanskrit gadhya: what one clings to. There’s no doubt we cling to the crucifixion piece of our tradition, and rightly so — but I’m not sure we are grasping for the right reasons.
I have now stepped onto very dangerous ground, because if one thinks about our generally accepted crucifixion-focus long enough, one eventually stumbles over the logical conclusion that God might in fact be pathologically damaged goods. What kind of parent sees problems in the way others are living, and then decides to take the life of his own child as a solution? A God who takes such action is not only deranged, but scarily so.
Today, whatever its name, is the day we force ourselves to look at what we are capable of, in the worst ways we can imagine. Death by crucifixion is brutal; for hours the victim struggles to breathe, and only dies when s/he can no longer relieve pressure on the lungs by trying to stand.
Before leaping to judgment about “those barbarians”, read the latest information about death by lethal injection, a supposedly merciful death. Or by electrocution. Or hanging. We are still at it; run far enough afoul of the ruling bodies (and I’m not pointing a finger at law enforcement, but at the whole system that permits capital punishment), and you are just as likely to suffer as cruel an execution as Jesus did.
Not much has changed in two thousand years.
Perhaps we might allow ourselves to look not only at the historical murdering of a first-century Jew, but in the mirror — at our own murderous tendencies, whether they be in support of capital punishment, or in our willingness to rob the “others” of Earth of their own right to life.
Jesus preached on this because the gratuitous (unconscious, unthinking, unexamined, unchallenged, unnecessary) taking of life is to kill both the murderer and the victim. Everyone dies.This will truly be a good Friday if we decide to walk away from killing in all its forms, and begin to live — in love, respect and harmony with each (and every) “other”.
Jesus’ life was given for a principle that we have yet to embrace. Maybe this will be the very Good Friday on which we begin.