I used to think it was really weird that we call the day Jesus died “Good Friday” and not “Black Friday.” Instead, Black Friday is the day everybody goes crazy with their Christmas shopping. Don’t we have those backwards? Black Friday is a really good day to go shopping, and Good Friday is a really dark day . . . literally, actually. Mark says, “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mark 15:33).
I’m not the first person to wonder about this, and probably not the last. Many who are wiser than I have theories about how we got here, the best of which says that “good” used to mean “holy” and that it’s actually Holy Friday.
BC Comics answers the question quite nicely:
But before we move on and just leave it at that . . . maybe I’m pointing out the obvious, but the name given to the day after Thanksgiving is the perfect foil to Good Friday. On Black Friday we have historically seen the worst displays of greed and selfishness, and it is the height of irony that it happens right after we have a day dedicated to thankfulness. The origins of the name “Black Friday” are muddy (read more here), but the day has grown into its name well.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul could be describing some of the scenes we see on Black Friday:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” –Romans 3:18-19
And lest we think we’re ok because we don’t go shopping on Black Friday, so we’re not so bad, Paul adds:
“. . .all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” –Romans 3:23
But the Good News that makes Good Friday good is that God is good and faithful, and loves us all so much that he provided a solution.
“all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” –Romans 3:24
Such an amazing gift . . . one we see paralleled in the story in Genesis when Abraham takes his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed, and at the last minute finds a ram in a thicket. Abraham then sacrifices that ram instead of his son (Genesis 22:13). (Read the whole story here.)
A thicket is a dense area of bushes or trees. My brain is often like a thicket, a particularly foggy one sometimes. Maybe this is why I resonate with the people in Exodus that God calls “stiff-necked” for their stubbornness and tendency to complain about everything. My thicket today is this whole Good/Black Friday bundle of nomenclature and etymology and all its theological implications, and most of all the blackness that inevitably pervades my mood on Good Friday. Yes, I know Sunday is coming. I know the good news is that Jesus doesn’t stay dead, he is resurrected. But despite that, Good Friday still gets me down.
Maybe the real thicket is that bundle of sin and shame that Jesus bore on the cross on this day. l know the theology around our sinful nature begun when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden (Genesis 3). I know that Jesus willingly died for us (John 10:11-18). On this day that knowledge sinks from my head down into my heart and makes me sad. Some say this is what is really happening in that little verse that says “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). I know the pain of watching people that you love deeply go through pain. Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, it’s so hard to watch. We want to do something. We want to make them feel better. We want to take their pain away. Knowing that feeling, I think we get a glimpse of what Jesus might have been feeling.
And since he is God, he did do something that we would do if we could. He took on all our pain and redeemed it on the cross.
Here we find another thicket. Theology is sometimes impossibly dense about what exactly transpires in Jesus’ death and resurrection and in our believing in him. Paul in Romans spends a plethora of words on what boils down to this: “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28), faith in Jesus who died for us and conquered sin and death through his resurrection from the dead.
I know Sunday’s coming. I know we’ll be joyful and thankful on Easter. I know today wouldn’t be what it is if the resurrection hadn’t happened. But for today the good and the black are still roiling around in the thicket.
And it’s ok. God is still here. This is a not a bad place to be, even if it is a hard place. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
May we appreciate Jesus’ work on the cross all the more, and know sincerely the joy of the resurrection by having walked through this day with sober understanding of the depth of our need for a savior.
Thanks be to God.
My Good Friday playlist . . .