A Note from Intern Nicole
What’s in a name? Language barriers are funny things because not only are the words themselves different, but the cultural ideas behind the words are different too.
When I was speaking with a Chinese friend of mine, she shared with me that Christians in China do not refer to the Friday before Easter as “Good Friday,” but rather as “Great Friday,” “Holy Friday,” or in some places, even as “Bad Friday.” This puts an entirely different emphasis on the holiday. Eastern Orthodox Christians also call this day “Great Friday,” or “Great and Holy Friday.”
When I was speaking with my Chinese friend, she questioned how we could call that day “good.” How can the day of Jesus’ death be a day that we consider “good”?
For her, the emphasis on that day is in the penitence, recognizing the tragedy and brokenness that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion. To Jesus’ followers, not only was this the death of a friend and teacher, but also the death of their dreams. One of them laments a few days later, “but we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a). While this is a high holy day, it is a somber one, full of the grief and the anguish of Jesus’ earliest followers.
In contrast, one of my seminary professors preached a Good Friday sermon about the rebelliousness of calling that day “Good Friday.” Certainly, the events were gruesome and horrific. Certainly the brokenness of the world that led to Jesus’ crucifixion is desperate. But God steps into that moment of history, transforming it. This professor proclaimed that it was in Jesus’ crucifixion that God transforms the cross from a tree of death to a tree of life. The day becomes good by God subverting our expectations and setting us free from sin. We rebel against the forces that say “this is all there is” when we look at the events of Friday and remember that Sunday comes.
Both of these ideas (and more) are integral to the identity of the holy day we call Good Friday. The idea that there are truly horrific elements to the day, that it is a day to remember our sin, to repent, to lament our own brokenness, and the idea that this is a day to proclaim that God brings new life through death. It is not to belittle the death, nor is it to remember only the death. We hold both sides together in tension. And it is often a painful tension. But that is the tension of the day, and often of our own lives. To remember that God brings new life out of death, even the deaths of our hopes. Whether we call it “Good” or “Great” Friday, that tension is important. It is in recognizing the severity of this day that we recognize the hope it can bring to all others; no pain is too great for God to transform, so we can name the pain and bring it before God.