What’s So Good About Good Friday?

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
2nd April 2011

Tagged: easter good friday salvation

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Good Friday is a great day.  It is the day when we have a public holiday to celebrate the saving death of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

People who don’t know of this salvation find the English name “Good Friday” strange.  Its history is derived from the 13th century where the word ‘good’ meant  ‘holy’.  So it was ‘Holy Friday’ but as the word ‘good’ changed its meaning, Christians saw no reason to change the name.   If anything the name became more appropriate to describe the rationale for the holiday.     For there’s no better day than the one when our saviour died for our sins.  In his death God’s love was demonstrated, Jesus was glorified, God’s just anger against us was turned aside, our sin was paid for, we were redeemed, Satan and his works were defeated – just to mention a few things that happened that day.   Any day that is set aside to celebrate the saving death of our Lord deserves at least the title “Good”.

As people move away from the Christian understanding of the death of Jesus, their celebrations become distorted.   For the religious, this day ceases to be a celebration of his saving death as they try to connect to God by their religious observances.   For the irreligious, this day becomes like any other public holiday; time off to enjoy themselves.

Instead of trusting the message, that Jesus’ death is sufficient to bring us forgiveness, religious people try to gain the benefits of his death by their actions.  Justification is no longer by faith in Christ’s death alone but by faith and works, especially sympathetic re-enactments by which the observant can participate in the sufferings of Christ.   From Thursday evening, with the ceremonial foot washing, the stripping of altars and reserving the ‘host’ to celebrate the mass of the Pre-sanctified,  the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrificial death is consistently undermined through religious observances.  A distorted retelling of the events of the day, by a meritorious procession called the stations of the cross,  fails to accept the spiritual reality of the day.  It is worse still when dramatic re-enactments even involve actual crucifixions.   From medieval times the “Veneration of the Cross” has turned the events of history into idolatry  - even “Creeping to the Cross” to kiss the feet of the crucifix.   Christ’s supposed ‘Reproaches’ from the cross are sung as people once again seek mercy, or worse still, make ‘Acts of Reparation’ to pay Jesus for the sins that they have committed against him!  

Those Reformers of the 16th century, who continued to celebrate Good Friday, dispensed with the medieval practices and proclaimed the death of Jesus for our sins.   The Anglicans, together with the continental Protestants, celebrated the Lord’s Supper – a practice that continues in Evangelical churches to this day.  But as people lose touch with our justification by faith in the Gospel word of the finished work of Christ, so there is a turning back to medieval practices or the development of new ways to please God.  For example the 17th century Jesuit three hour (from midday to 3pm) service was introduced into Anglican churches by the 19th Anglo-Catholic ritualist, Alexander Mackonochie.

On the other hand, the irreligious use Good Friday to continue to trade or to pursue pleasure.  Our Government is under great pressure to allow trading on every day of the year – including Good Friday.  A society that has no time off from trading has only the poverty of materialism to hold it together.  But most people gratefully use the public holiday to enjoy themselves. If you know nothing of the death of Jesus, then it’s understandable that you would use your free time to pursue whatever made you happy, be it the family barbeque or a fishing trip, a game of football or an opportunity to get into the garden.

Christians know that we don’t need a holiday to mark the day our salvation was won.  There’s nothing wrong with trade or pleasure on any day of the year.   Yet, if the society grants us a day in which to celebrate our Lord’s victorious death, we should use it to the full - use it and not lose it. 

Good Friday is the day when nobody can complain if we proclaim our Lord’s all conquering death.  Family, presents, Santa and children may dominate Christmas Day, while chocolate and the bunny are taking over Easter day but Good Friday has only buns with the cross on them.   This is the day to spend time remembering our Lord’s death, pondering with thankfulness its significance and implications for our lives.   It’s the day to invite our friends and neighbours to hear what Jesus did when he died for sins.  Most Australians don’t know why he died or what his death achieved.  They think that Christ’s message is about being nice and kind and good.    If they could only find out the wonderful news of sins forgiven, pardon and redemption, justification and adoption!  But how will they find out unless we who know the truth, love it and love them enough to tell them.  And when better than the day set aside – by our community – to celebrate this death by calling it ‘Good’.

At the Cathedral this year the Archbishop will preach at our mid-morning communion and then I will join him in speaking at our afternoon Cathedral Convention entitled: “Putting Evil to Flight”.   Peter will speak on “The Cross and Spiritual Warfare” and I will speak on “The Cross and Human Suffering”.   In the evening our choir will bring us Handel’s Messiah.   The Cathedral is the church for the whole diocese and so all are welcome - but wouldn’t it be great if in every parish the day was spent in proclaiming the Lord’s death – to ourselves and to our friends.