Jesus' Death: The Real Black Friday
Why we need to remember the ugliness of the Cross.
Good Friday, also called Black Friday or Great Friday, is the day Christians pause to remember the crucifixion of Jesus and His death at Calvary. The year was 33 CE, or at least that’s the best guess. One method of determining this date uses an astronomical approach based on an eclipse (consistent with the sun darkening in the Gospel account of the crucifixion scene in Matthew 27:45), which arrived on Friday April 3, 33 CE.
Sadly, Good Friday isn’t always noticed by modern Christ-followers. In fact, it is the least attended service on the Christian calendar. (Some communities of faith don’t even have a Good Friday service.) Contrariwise, Easter has the highest attendance. It appears we love to think about the hope of the Resurrection without attending to the messiness of the Cross. But the truth is, there would have been no Easter without a Golgotha.
Perhaps one reason we shy away from facing the Cross is because we moderns are death-deniers. Almost weekly we watch as technology cures sickness and postpones death. Technology has pushed death so far back into the background that we view death as the exception rather than the norm. And, truth be told, we are shocked by death. It creeps us out. We moderns are not so much grateful for our good health or length of life; we expect it—demand it, really. And if our expectations are interrupted by tragedy or illness, we feel ripped off. We see it as unfair. Just a hundred years ago, this mindset would have been considered a little crazy and completely unreasonable. Today our expectations are very different. In fact, many unconsciously embrace an illusion that one day technology will conquer death altogether—probably in their lifetime.
Whatever the reason is, many of us avoid remembering Calvary. The concept of “remembering” in the ancient world meant more than the pale contemporary notion of recalling something; it meant to make the past “present”—to rehearse it in a way that you imagine you are actually there. Remembering Calvary would be disturbing indeed.
From a theological perspective, the Good Friday event is staggering. Calvary is the place where God, having become flesh in Jesus, took upon Himself the brokenness of our fallen world. God did not create a fallen world—human beings, operating as God’s vicars facilitated that debacle. The tragedy of sin made this planet a kind of fire swamp. God’s dream was lost. But instead of abandoning Project Earth, God chose to reach over the infinite chasm between holiness and sin and seize humanity by becoming one with it. God became a human and threw Himself completely into our mess in order to deliver us out of it.
It was because Jesus completely entered our broken human condition that a way was made for us to leave that condition—to overcome death and to become a new kind of humanity. The Cross was actually God’s victory over darkness—not with brute or political power but through Christ’s passively submitting to all the torment darkness had to offer, and then overcoming it by exhausting it. Paul wrote, “None of the rulers of this age understood [the wisdom of the cross], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
NT Wright writes: “Jesus therefore took up His own cross. He had come to see it, too, in deeply symbolic terms: symbolic, now, not merely of Roman oppression, but of the way of love and peace which He had commended so vigorously, the way of defeat which He had announced as the way of victory. … It was to become the symbol of victory, but not of the victory of Caesar, nor of those who would oppose Caesar with Caesar’s methods. It was to become the symbol, because it would be the means, of the victory of God.”
The evidence of God’s victory is seen most clearly in the Resurrection, but the actual victory was won in the Cross-event we celebrate on Good Friday. This means the beauty, the possibility; the freedom afforded us in the New Creation find their roots in the ugliness of Golgotha. This Good Friday, try fasting; hit a Good Friday service; gather some friends and read the Gospel account; whatever you do, take time to remember—and be present.