All over the world Christians are marking the most solemn day in the liturgical calendar. It is the day we observe the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. This brutal form of capital punishment employed by Caesar’s minions was meant to be a very public kind of intimidation, and it was employed against enemies of Rome or anyone else, like Jesus, who got in the way.
The Romans used this barbaric means of execution from the 6th century B.C. until 337, when Emperor Constantine banned the practice as he embraced Christianity. Over that time it is impossible to estimate how many people died the slow, excruciatingly painful death on a cross; however, there is the most famous victim, and on this day we honor Jesus and call the day “good” even if he went through a horrific time that defies comprehension.
During the time called Lent we Christians reenact the Way of the Cross. This marks the journey Jesus took from conviction under Pontius Pilate to the moment he dies on the cross. Many images and films have been made over the years of this event, and the Stations of the Cross are performed in various ways in churches, including full action productions that include people playing the parts of Romans, citizens, and Jesus.
Looking in from the outside, some people may question all this. I know my friends who are not Christian ask, “Why would they call this ‘good’ Friday?” The answer is that it is an inherently good day because of what is to come, not due to what happens on the day itself. The death of Jesus on the cross is a solemn event, but one that has to occur. We cry for the death of the man but realize that nothing could destroy his spirit, which is what makes him ultimately victorious in what seems to be the end of things.
Over the years many films have depicted the torture Jesus went through, and none does it more graphically than Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which chronicles the enormous brutality of the event. Many people protested against the film for its violent nature, but it was far more realistic than many films that show an almost pristine Christ getting nailed to the cross without a hair out of place.
What happened on this day to Jesus was sadistic, barbaric, ugly, and uncivilized. What could we expect from an empire that allowed the gladiators to be the greatest form of entertainment in its capital city? Besides the fact of the cruelty inflicted on Jesus and that he dies in excruciating pain, we Christians still call the day “good” because we know it was not the end but just the beginning. For those who don’t believe, it was just a terrible death of a man and nothing more. Only faith allows us to see the magnificence of the moment.
On Easter Sunday Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead, defeating evil and creating a pathway for everyone to salvation. This is our faith. Otherwise, Easter is just another Sunday: one with a parade of people in silly hats, or maybe it’s a day for finding colorful eggs under the sofa and getting chocolate bunnies for the kids. Like Christmas, Easter can be appropriated for a secular celebration, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am sure Jesus wouldn’t mind, so why should anyone else.
Good Friday is a culmination, one that Christians have been preparing for since they received ashes on their foreheads at the start of the Lenten season. Those ashes are a reminder of our mortality at the start of a time that is haunting in its significance. We are supposed to give up something, help those less fortunate, refrain from eating meat on Fridays, participate in the Stations of the Cross, and go to confession more often. All of this is preparation for Good Friday – a day that changed everything.
So yes, today is a “good” day indeed if you believe. We Christians believe that Good Friday is the day that death no longer had dominion. Death and Satan may have been doing a dance on this day, thinking that they both had won big time; however, we believe on Easter Sunday they both hung their heads and sulked in defeat. Jesus not only defeated them but saved us, and that couldn’t have happened without that Friday that we mark every year as “good.”
Photo credits: crosses – jesuits.org; jesus – spreadjesus.org