So I just left my first ever Good Friday service. I had never been to one before and had only heard of pastors preaching on this day as of recently. Most of the pastors I heard were preaching did so around noon, close to the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. I’m not sure if that’s why they chose that time but I’m sure it plays a role.
Good Friday is a kind of weird day all around. For starters, it’s a recognized day but not by everyone. Some people had the day off, some didn’t. It’s a day only a select few people actually commemorate and for the longest, it had been a day of brief reflection and thankfulness from myself to God the Son for his obedience to die my death and take my wrath. I even read John 18 -19 in the morning so I could follow the story of the arrest, “trial”, and crucifixion of Jesus. Again, all things I was supposed to endure. I was looking forward to joining my church for their Good Friday evening service. On the way there I was blasting gospel choir music, “pre-gaming” my spirit to be ready to receive the message. From the announcements given the previous Sundays about this service I knew it would be a little more solemn and serious than a normal service. As it should be. Good Friday may be good for us A.D. Christians, but it was anything but good for the disciples and Christ Himself. And that “anything but” is exactly the setting my church wanted to showcase.
I walked in the door to the foyer area (does anyone use the word foyer anymore?) and everything felt somewhat normal. The crowd was normal size of what I was expecting. It’s a Friday night service and after a long day at work I am sure some people justified they had stewarded enough of themselves for the glory of God at work today and could not make the service. Since I was off from work today, that excuse eluded my permission. I walk into the sanctuary and find my seat. The room is darker than normal but not enough to really make a glaring difference. We have a huge screen on the stage that is always playing announcements but this time the screen was black. Generally there is music playing softly in the background as people file into the worship center but there was no sound from the speakers. As the pastor made his way to the stage, the room started to quiet down. The pastor gave a welcome and then briefly went into how the night would go. On everyone’s way into the sanctuary we were given booklets with the songs we would sing, the scriptures we would read and the speaker/congregation responses we would do. The pastor basically told us that tonight was not a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, but a solemn reminder of the true price He paid, the despair his disciples underwent, as well as a reflection of the fact that our sin put him there. The point of the service was to illuminate the true sadness of this day thousands of years ago, hopefully helping us to see what kind of emotions and true feelings the disciples felt when they saw their friend, and their God, Jesus, the Son of God, be killed before their very eyes. What followed next in the service was hard for me to process. We sang the normal songs we would sing in church but any lyrics with mention of the hope Jesus brought, the resurrection, or His triumph over our sin and death was taken out of the song. We read verses and were read recounts of the trial of Jesus. Our pastor took the stage and told us how Jesus did not merely get whipped; that he actually was gouged repeatedly with a whip that consisted of broken fragments of rock and glass, with the end of each strand of the whip mounted with hook like talons that dug deep into the flesh of the criminal on the front swing, and tore bones, ligament and muscle on the way out as the “whipper” retracted. We were told how Jesus did not merely die on a cross; that actually he was nailed to that cross in way that required him to attempt to stand on his nailed, bruised, tired feet to stop the blood from rushing into his lungs further asphyxiating Him but since His feet were nailed to said cross, this motion was extremely painful making the process of “standing” and giving up go on for hours. My pastor did not mince words when describing the reality of the type of suffering Jesus went through, on our behalf, in our place, and because of us. To be fair, he gave a disclaimer to parents of little ones beforehand. The rest of the service was the singing of only the sad parts of once hopeful-ending songs, the reading of solemn verses, and the call-and-response that led to the end of the service where all the lights went out, depicting the moment Jesus gave up his spirit and died, and utter darkness fell over the land. Earthquakes, darkness, temple veils defying the laws of physics being ripped. The earth knew something bad had just happened. After the lights came up in the sanctuary, we were dismissed in silence. It was like leaving a funeral. I didn’t know if I was allowed to talk until I got to the parking lot. As I processed what I just experienced, I had very mixed emotions. One the one hand, its my church and I trust my pastors, the elders and the staff. If they think this is what the congregation needed to experience, glory be to God. But it was rough. It wasn’t just solemn, or sobering, or serious, or sad. It felt hopeless. This is what I felt leaving the sanctuary. I felt hopeless. Be it the songs with the hopeful lyrics taken out, or only reading passages describing Jesus’s suffering, or the actual turning off of the lights to symbolize the Light of the world being snuffed out, or whatever effect hit me hardest, it hit me hopeless. I left wondering why did I come tonight? I do not like feeling sad, or being forced to be depressed, or even having to somberly reflect on the weight of a subject. But it was needed. It was very needed.
I think maybe we have only been looking at the good of Good Friday. There was actually nothing good about it for those involved. The disciples watched fearfully, eyes reddened and swollen from crying incessantly, as their friend, their beloved brother, Teacher, Master, Lord and Savior, the Christ, their Redemption and Salvation was beaten, mocked, crucified, killed and buried. Like the feeling I had when I left tonight, they too were left hopeless. Their funeral was not filled with sermons about Jesus going a better place; there was no reason to celebrate the life of Jesus with singing and dancing. Their one hope had been dashed right before their eyes. For them, this was actually the worse Friday of their entire lives. The earth was physically falling apart, their friend had been killed, they were filled with fear; there was nothing good to be found. We need to reflect on that more often. I’m not proposing that we purposely go out of our way to make ourselves sad. God is not impressed at you for crying on Good Friday or jumping up and down on Easter Sunday. But we all should let the weight of today, what happened today, sit on us. Let it sit next to us, speak to us, help us reflect. The Bible tells us many times to remember. Lets not glide by Good Friday as just a day to be off from work, or a day to write how “good indeed” a Friday it is. This day is only good because thousands of years ago it was absolutely terrible. This day is only good because an actual good and perfect Man died for actual imperfect evil people; that’s me and you. Good Friday should be celebrated. Celebrated with reflection and seriousness. Good Friday is a very Serious Friday…..