John 18: 1-19:42; Good Friday; 04142017
The past couple of weeks, I’ve been pondering why there is a “good” in Good Friday. Nothing that I would call “good” really happens on Good Friday in the chain of events. In fact, one could easily call it Bad Friday. I have no recollection from my seminary years, learning why it was called good, other than knowing it’s been called Good Friday for centuries. Listening to the Gospel of John today, the exact opposite comes to mind.
At our clergy group on Monday, I decided to play “stump the clergy.” Three different faith traditions were represented, so I figured one of them would know. Not! No one could solve this cipher for me. Even my Spiritual Director was unable to help me. That old song kept running through my head, “Can I get a Witness?”
Finally, I contacted that penultimate source of information, namely Googling the Internet. I learned that there is some disagreement about the source of Good Friday, but there are three distinct schools of thought. The first of the three, is that it is called Good Friday, well, because many Christians believe it is good. This belief comes from the fact that it is the anniversary of Christ’s death upon the Cross, which freed them from their sins, and led to the great Celebration of Easter. There is certainly something to be said for this theory, since many people agree with it, but alas, it is not where the “Good” comes from.[i]
The second school of thought is that the “Good” derives from an older linguistic term, “God’s Friday.” Though attested by such sources as Wikipedia, based on an earlier entry in The Catholic Encyclopedia from the early 1900’s, and from that bastion of scholarly knowledge, the Huffington Post, scholars have discerned no etymological evidence that such an evolution of words exists. There has been some scholarly conjecture that this confusion has resulted from the theory that the words God and good are somehow connected. Evidently, this argument was made based on a German mistranslation, confusing Sorrowful Friday with Good Friday. Now I could buy sorrowful Friday, but there’s another wrinkle in the story.[ii]
The third school of thought is supported by no less an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary. It is based on an earlier definition of the word “good”, which at one time meant “holy”. In other languages, it was also translated as Sacred Friday and Passion Friday, indicating a common linguistic ancestry with those other cultures. As a side note, I learned that the Oxford English Dictionary also mentions there was once a “Good Wednesday”, which we now know as Holy Wednesday, the Wednesday before Easter.[iii]
So, there you have it, at least one guy’s opinion. I have to admit, I find the term Holy Friday more liturgically satisfying than the current descriptor, Good Friday. But I doubt that anyone is going to ask for my opinion anytime soon.
We are left, then, with the words we heard from John’s Gospel. And we all must struggle with this thing we call death. Is death the final stop on this thing we call living, or is perhaps just another stop on a much longer journey? The answers to that question have been many and varied, and even Jesus’ own disciples thought that Jesus’s death had brought an end to the story.
Like the disciples, we find ourselves today on the edge of a very deep chasm. We believe we know the end of the story, and indeed, things will have changed by this time on Sunday. But today, there is mostly darkness and questions. And there is a deep-seated fear of the darkness and ancient things long buried there. Don’t think because we’re civilized that we’ve outgrown those ancient stories. The memories still lie hidden within us, at times ringing the alarm bells of some totally unwelcome invasion. We know these things as DNA from our ancestors, in the same way we know the words of that ancient spell, “ring around the rosy, pockets full of posies, ashes, ashes, all fall down.”
Jesus knew well the darkness. He knew it and he entered into it. Perhaps not totally willingly, but surely he did it obediently. He did so, because he had been instructed to by his Father. And at times we will each be called to enter into the darkness, called by one ancient writer, “The dark night of the soul”. And though we might sometimes fear the things that we find there, the light, as John described it, shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. On this day of Holy Friday, the light has certainly faltered, but the darkness has not extinguished it. We pray once again, for the miracle that God has given us.
Perhaps we might ponder on this day, the prophetic words written by Isaiah. “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised and we held him of no account. Surely, he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we are healed.” And so the story begs the question: on this Holy Friday, what do you believe?
[i]Forest Wickman, “Why is Good Friday is called Good Friday?” Post originally published in 2014, reprinted; accessed April 11, 2017. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/04/18/why_is_good_friday_called_good_friday_the_etymology_and_origins_of_the_holiday.html,