What Is Good Friday?

Today we celebrate Good Friday, the day on which our Lord, Savior, and Master was crucified and buried.

What is the significance of this day?  Some may see it as a sad time and see no reason to call it good.  Others may say that Christ couldn’t have died on Friday as that would be only two days to Sunday instead of the three days the scriptures say He was in the tomb.  Others would seem to believe that Jesus died to establish as legalistic a church as what He sought to replace in the Pharisees interpretation of Judaism.  Maybe not 613 laws as the Pharisee’s had, but none the less still a bunch of rules and regulations to have to follow if we want to be “true” Christian.  However is that the real message of Good Friday, or is there something else we are supposed to get from Good Friday?

Last Sunday we celebrated the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  It is a festive time of the waving of palm branches, shoutings of Hosanna, meaning Lord save us.  However there is also the complaining of the religious leaders about the adoration that was being given to Him.  That complaining would continue to rise until culminating in the events of Good Friday.

Meanwhile we also celebrated Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday in some traditions), wherein we remember the Last Supper, Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, then His ultimate betrayal and arrest in Gethsemane.  That brings us to Good Friday where Jesus is tried before the Sanhedrin, then Pontius Pilate, which then leads to His condemnation and death.  Obliviously a total travesty of justice, as even Pilate himself said Jesus was not guilty of any crime, but still sentenced Him to death anyway.  So how could all this happen?  How could an innocent man be hung on a cross to suffer an excruciating death for crimes He never committed?  In answering that question we will come to a better understanding of what Good Friday is about, and why it is still important for us to celebrate and remember today.

To me, Good Friday is a condemnation of organized religion and what can happen when organized religion and government combine together.  For it was organized religion which nailed Jesus to the cross.  They were the ones who got the ball rolling with the arrest of Jesus, trying Him before their supreme council, the Sanhedrin, condemning Him to death, which led them to take Him before Pilate.  There they demanded the death of Jesus even when Pilate was determined to set Him free.  Ultimately they stirred up the crowds to also demand the death of Jesus until Pilate, fearing a riot, was about to break out, accedes to their demands.

In their efforts to falsely condemn Jesus they ended up breaking several of their own laws such as:

  • they were not supposed to have a trial at night
  • the defendant was supposed to be allowed witnesses to testify in his behalf and
  • in order to vote for a verdict of guilty they had to have at least two witnesses to agree on what happened.

In Jesus’ case the trial was at night in secret, He was allowed no witnesses to defend Him, and scripture tells, though they tried desperately, they could not come up with two witnesses to agree on anything.  Therefore Jesus should have been found not guilty and released.  However that was not what the religious leaders wanted.

So why didn’t someone speak up and try to stop this travesty from happening?  Where were the people who had heard Him preach, been healed and delivered from demonic powers by Him, saw, or perhaps been a part of the feeding of thousands with a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish.  Where were they?  Why weren’t their voices heard to override the other voices and prevent the crucifixion from happening?

I believe there is a twofold answer here.  First regards the religious leaders who were acting out of fear. According to the Apostle John, Jesus was winning more followers than the Jewish leaders were.  They were afraid that everyone would soon follow Jesus, leading them to lose their influence and place in society. Therefore they made the decision to kill Jesus to prevent that from happening.[i]   That led them to try Jesus before a kangaroo court, where the verdict was a foregone conclusion as they controlled what happened and what the ultimate verdict would be.  Also, since it was done at night, in secret, it prevented the followers of Jesus from being able to rally to Him or try to mount some defense of Jesus that might have saved Him.  However when they got to Pilate, that was another thing altogether.  Here they were on Gentile territory, confronting a Roman governor with little or no interest in the Jewish religion who only wanted peace, and he would go to any lengths to preserve that peace.

Why then did someone from the crowd not speak up in defense of Jesus or protest the unfairness of what was happening?  St Matthew says that the religious leaders persuaded the people to ask for the release of Barabbas.[ii]   How did they do this?  St. Mark tells us that the religious stirred up the people.[iii]   That is they got the people excited.  The word used here in the Greek for stir comes from two Greek words which refers to repetition, and the other a Greek word to rock, and to cause to tremble with fear.  I suspect one of the religious leaders began to chant Barabbas and demand his release and the crucifixion of Jesus.  Soon others began to do the same thing, and soon the whole crowd is doing it.  At this point they have stopped thinking and are simply robots being manipulated and used by the religious leaders for their own purposes.  Even when confronted with definite proof and evidence of Jesus’ innocence, including a “not guilty” verdict from Pilate himself, they still persisted in calling for the death of Jesus and the release of Barabbas.  Finally when they were ready to riot to get what they wanted, Pilate gave in and granted their wish.[iv]  The interesting thing  is that they killed the very one they were supposedly looking for.  The religious leaders had it all figured out how the Messiah would come, and exactly what he would do.  When Jesus didn’t meet those expectations they rejected him outright, killing him in the process.

Many religious leaders today are promoting fear of Muslims, gays, immigrants, Liberals and just about anyone they feel threatens their religion, their way of life and their religious beliefs.  They want to build walls rather than bridges of understanding.  They want to deport people they consider undesirable, rather than welcome the stranger with the love of Christ in action to them.  They want the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs and understanding of the Bible, and to force their own beliefs on others.  In their fears of losing all they hold dear they want to turn us into a “Christian” nation, and they come with a political agenda that they feel must be passed and adopted to save America from God’s wrath and bring “revival” to our land.  Seemingly lost in all this is Jesus’ command to love one another, and the very people they condemn are the very people Jesus would have hung out with and associated with – i.e. the marginalized and outcasts of society.

In conclusion, Good Friday shows us what organized religion can do, which is leave us with a dead Jesus in a cold tomb, powerless and without life.  However Easter is on its way and with it the resurrection of our Lord from the dead.  However He was not raised from the dead to establish a new legalistic religion of rules and regulations.  Neither was He raised from the dead for a few chosen, frozen, predetermined at some point to be saved, while everyone goes to hell.  Instead Jesus was raised from the dead to set us free from the shackles of organized religion, and the man made rules and regulations and pride, that lead to events like Good Friday and Calvary.  Instead, He was raised to empower us to go and embrace the entire world in His love.  That is the Good News of the Gospel.  That is also the message of the kingdom of God that will bring peace to the entire world, and a cessation to all war and violence.  It is also the message which will bring prosperity to our planet, ending hunger, disease etc.  It is the good news that a new day is dawning and the old is passing away. It is the call to a new and better way.

This leaves us with two choices.  We can be like the crowd that condemned Jesus by refusing to believe anything that would have contradicted what they believed at that moment, and thereby ended killing the very One that could have helped them, in favor of a false messiah/leader Barabbas, who really couldn’t do anything for them.  On the other hand we can believe the truth, stand with Jesus, and take his love to all the world, embracing everyone with it, and seeing the beginning of the true kingdom of God brought to earth and God’s reign extended over the entire planet.  Which will we choose?

I am Catholic and a firm believer in apostolic succession, the ordained ministry of deacon, priest and bishop.  However everyone’s voice should be heard and everyone have a say.  That goes in accordance with the spirit of the communion my church belongs to, the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches, which is governed by council made up of laity, priests and bishops, where all can be heard and we can work together to build consensus where all can be winners.  It also agrees with the spirit of St. Benedict, who says when you have a problem call a meeting of the brethren, and then starting with the youngest or newest let everyone speak and then when everyone has spoken then come to a decision.

I hope this proves a blessing, even though you will be getting this a day late, and the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect my churches or my community’s views.  Any comments or thoughts are always welcomed.