“I just don’t like Good Friday,” a worship leader once told me, “It’s such a downer. Easter Sunday is so much more fun!”
Most evangelicals are not as honest about their Good Friday reservations, but we should admit that we don’t do lament very well. We like our worship upbeat, celebratory and victorious. I once attended a Good Friday service that resembled more of a junior high pep rally than the historic church holiday remembering the gruesome and unjust death of our Lord.
Christianity is, of course, a story of triumph. The Son of God became flesh, dwelt among his people, yielded to the wrath of the Father on the cross, and defeated sin, death and the grave. Christianity is the story of creation and recreation, rescue and renewal. But when we so quickly rush past the lament of Good Friday, we miss the important telling of the full gospel narrative.
We should pause and mourn death. Death is the fruit of the curse, the work of Satan, the destroyer of men’s souls. All around us we see the rotten fruit of what Satan calls “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26)—murder, disease, war. Death invades our relationships; it crushes our hopes; it corrupts our best years.
Christians exult in Easter’s good news that, because of Christ’s resurrection, death has “no sting” (1 Cor. 15:55). We want to joyfully declare to the unreached that because Jesus suffered for us, we no longer have to fear death because it is merely a doorway for God’s people into eternity with him (1 Cor. 5:8).
Let’s not, however, be so quick to avoid meditating, reflecting and thinking upon death. In one of the most poignant narratives in the gospels, John writes of a visibly troubled Jesus over the passing of his friend, Lazarus (John 11). Jesus wept openly. Jesus was greatly troubled in his spirit. Jesus was angry at death, the work of the enemy.
Christians are often too flippant about death. At funerals, we skip too swiftly to the “but we will see him later” part of our mourning. Yes, we have hope of heaven. Yes, we will see our believing loved ones one day. Yes, we know eternity for them is far better than life in a fallen world.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be outraged, like Jesus was, over the gravity of sin and death. The daily assaults on human dignity, the senseless violence in our world, the ravages of disease upon the human experience–these should break our hearts. There is no sugar-coating death. It’s violent. It’s evil. It’s wicked.
When we refuse to linger over the reality of death, to lament what has been lost by sin, we miss out on the full weight of Calvary and the goodness of Easter. Easter is so good, so triumphant, so joyous and bright and hopeful only because on Good Friday, our Savior hung, naked and bleeding, for his people’s sins. Good Friday is good because there, alone, abandoned, innocent, Jesus defeated that last enemy. It is good because he suffered the full weight of God’s wrath against sin.
We celebrate life because Jesus conquered death. This is why much of the hymnody throughout the ages lingers long and hard here. The road to peace with God doesn’t go around, but through a bloody cross and a wounded Savior.
So, this Good Friday, let’s not rush past the cross. Let’s profess, with the hymnwriter Isaac Watts, the somber weight of the cross:
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.