The celebration of Good Friday is simple in theory. We read or hear the Passion narrative, fast out of respect for the solemnity of the day, and anticipate the quiet waiting of Holy Saturday and the joyful triumph of Easter. But in practice, this day can be difficult to parse. Sometimes we may intellectually process the somber tone of the day but not be able to connect with it emotionally (although on this front, fasting usually helps). Perhaps we have heard the Passion story so often that familiarity robs it of its impact. And sometimes it’s just difficult to reconcile Good Friday as both the apex of humanity’s brokenness and the greatest outpouring of love from our God.
We are torn between gratitude and sorrow; between comfort at the evidence of Christ’s great love for us and horror at the cruelty He was subjected to on the Cross – the Cross He insists we take up ourselves if we are to follow Him. It can be tempting to just go through the motions, or to look at the day more as a windup for Easter than a place to pause and stay for a while.
But if we jump to Easter without truly dwelling in Good Friday, we cheapen the whole experience of Triduum and the trauma of the Crucifixion. We reduce our faith to something merely ‘comforting’, which will inevitably fall apart as soon as it fails to comfort. We reinforce a tendency to gloss over or simplify the complex, contradictory emotions of the Bible. But the richest mysteries in Scripture are the ones which seem at first paradoxical: Jesus as fully God and fully Human. Mary as virgin and mother. A God who’s all-just and yet all-merciful. One God in three Persons. An all-powerful God who is executed like a criminal. If we abdicate the work of wrestling with these higher, tougher truths, we will remain stuck in our too-human mindset. But if we welcome complexity, we will come closer to a mature spirituality which can handle confusion, anger, and loss as well as comfort and joy.
Rather than push our minds to an easy resolution, let us today hold that mess of emotion all at once, and let it be what it is. We don’t need to grasp at words to define the Good Friday experience. Our silent, complicated awe is enough.
“All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent, in one way or another, the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins…
In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst… Skepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask: ‘What is truth?’ So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role… Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgment-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.”
– GK Chesterton, the Everlasting Man
Rogier van der Weyden, “The Crucifixion” (Triptych)