Guest / Limited Access /

What a supreme paradox. We now call the day Jesus was crucified, Good.

Many believe this name simply evolved—as language does. They point to the earlier designation, God's Friday, as its root. (This seems a reasonable conjecture, given that goodbye evolved from God be with you.)

Whatever its origin, the current name of this holy day offers a fitting lesson to those of us who assume (as is easy to do) that good must mean happy. We find it hard to imagine a day marked by sadness as a good day.

Of course, the church has always understood that the day commemorated on Good Friday was anything but happy. Sadness, mourning, fasting, and prayer have been its focus since the early centuries of the church. A fourth-century church manual, the Apostolic Constitutions, called Good Friday a "day of mourning, not a day of festive Joy." Ambrose, the fourth-century archbishop who befriended the notorious sinner Augustine of Hippo before his conversion, called it the "day of bitterness on which we fast."

Many Christians have historically kept their churches unlit or draped in dark cloths. Processions of penitents have walked in black robes or carried black-robed statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. And worshippers have walked the "Stations of the Cross," praying and singing their way past 14 images representing Jesus' steps along the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha.

Yet, despite—indeed because of—its sadness, Good Friday is truly good. Its sorrow is a godly sorrow. It is like the sadness of the Corinthians who wept over the sharp letter from their dear teacher, Paul, convicted of the sin in their midst. Hearing of their distress, Paul said, "My joy was greater than ever." Why? Because such godly sorrow "brings repentance that leads to salvation and ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueStop Calling Everything a Bible Study
Subscriber Access Only
Stop Calling Everything a Bible Study
Why it matters what churches call their classes.
Current IssueHow the Prophet Habakkuk Built an Anti-Fragile Faith
Subscriber Access Only
How the Prophet Habakkuk Built an Anti-Fragile Faith
Lessons on worshiping a consistently unpredictable God.
RecommendedN. T. Wright: The Church Continues the Revolution Jesus Started
N. T. Wright: The Church Continues the Revolution Jesus Started
In his new book, Wright explains that Jesus' death does more than just get us into heaven.
TrendingAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
Editor's PickMy Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.
Christianity Today
The Goodness of Good Friday
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

April 2003

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.