I’m pretty sure Federalist readers aren’t all that interested in “12 Reasons to Celebrate Good Friday.” Either they’re already going to celebrate Good Friday—in which case they don’t need reasons—or they don’t care. There’s no issue there.
But I thought it would be helpful to consider the value of Good Friday from the perspective of a liturgical calendar minimalist—indeed, one who is already on the record against observing Lent. Many Christians who go to church most Sundays don’t observe the church calendar, perhaps thinking it is superstitious, or unbiblical (see No. 10). In the case of Good Friday, maybe they think they’re just too busy for an extra worship service, especially one that they believe adds no real value.
In that spirit, I present the following 12 reasons to celebrate Good Friday.
1. The Cross Is Central to Christianity
Well, duh. You’d think you wouldn’t have to state the obvious. Unfortunately, if you visit any Christian church on a typical Sunday—pick your poison flavor—you’ll be hard-pressed to leave with a clear impression that the cross is central to Christianity. But it is.
2. There’s No Easter Without the Cross
Again, pretty obvious. You can’t rise from the dead if you don’t die. But Easter and Good Friday represent two polar opposites in the saving work of Jesus, the two biblical poles of “suffering and glory.” Since it’s really, really hard to focus on two polar opposite realities at the same time, or in the same act of worship, the cross tends to get forgotten on Easter Sunday. For all those “Easter and Christmas” worshipers out there who just check in on church a few days a year, you really are missing “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey might say.
3. It’s All About the Contrast
Yes, this is No. 2 restated. But c’mon… what listicle isn’t padded? This is, however, an important point, because celebrating “resurrection life” on Easter is practically meaningless if you don’t first celebrate the death of Christ that brings it about. At least, it’s meaningless from a Christian standpoint. Easter is not an ode to Springtime, or a celebration of natural cycles of new birth. It is most decidedly a supernatural reality we celebrate. Precisely because it is so difficult to celebrate death and resurrection all at the same time, Easter has become a day about lilies and chocolates and bunnies that lay eggs.
4. Good Friday Is Not Sad
Yes, many Good Friday services are clothed in darkness and draped in black vestments. It is sort of like a funeral. But this is the remarkable truth of Good Friday: Jesus died, so we don’t have to. It is really the most amazing thing to behold one’s King, one’s Creator, dying on a tree in a most glorious sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Your eyes may fill with tears, but it’s not sad.
5. We Need Real, Somber Worship
We need to get real. Too much of Christian worship today is joy, joy, joy. If you’re not happy, you’re not invited. Evangelical Christianity all too often tends to be plastic, fake, and hypocritical. Even our funerals are celebrations of life. But Christianity speaks most powerfully when it speaks to the pain and brokenness of our humanity, and grapples with the evil and wickedness of the human soul — even our own human souls. Good Friday is God’s answer to a broken world, and it is decisive. Get real.
6. Songs of the Cross Are Deeply Moving
These are some of my favorite, and some of the most moving, songs of Christian hymnody, and I can’t wait to sing them Friday evening:
“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”
“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed”
“What Wondrous Love Is This”
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
“My God, My God, O Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22)
“At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”
“Lift High the Cross”
7. It Is Unique
It is very difficult for Christian worship to focus unswervingly on the cross, without spilling over into Easter joy. First of all, it’s mildly offensive. The cross shows the shame and guilt of your sin. It’s a bit overdone but, yes, in a sense your sins drove the nails into his hands.
Also, the cross alone is incomplete. It’s not the full Christian story. So, ordinarily Christian worship can’t and shouldn’t dwell fully and uniquely on the cross. But for one day a year, the Bad News of Good Friday is the best of all ways to prepare yourself for Good News of Easter. You won’t, and you shouldn’t, find this kind of focus on the cross on the best of Sundays at the most faithful of churches. But you will find it on Good Friday.
8. It’s Not Invented or Superstitious
The Gospels tell us that Jesus died on Passover, a feast Jewish law fixes to the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan. We know this was a Friday, as it was the day before the Sabbath (Mark 15:42). This is noteworthy, because, biblically speaking, it’s just about the only precise date the New Testament gives us. Sure, we can calculate Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost, but these are all ultimately pegged to the death of Christ on Good Friday. So when early Christians wanted to mark an annual holiday celebrating the central truths of their faith — the suffering and glory of their risen Lord — they actually knew what day to do it on. It’s not an invented date, nor is it determined in accommodation to agricultural or pagan festivals.
9. Good Friday Is an Ancient Christian Holiday
As a Protestant, I don’t believe tradition alone justifies a practice, but it may be a guide to what practices are wise. Easter and Good Friday are attested as the earliest annual Christian feast days, and with good reason (see No. 8). In the New Testament, Jewish Christians moved weekly worship from the seventh day of the week (Saturday / Sabbath) to the first day (Sunday), in order to mark the significance of Easter.
Very, very early, once a year Easter was commemorated in a deeper way. Long before there were “40 days of Lent,” it was traditional for Christians to fast for the 40 hours from Good Friday to Easter, during which Jesus lay in the tomb. This was a powerful reminder that through baptism Christians had been “buried with Christ” (Romans 6:3) and lived in the light of the promise and sure hope that they would likewise be raised with him on the last day.
10. The Bible Doesn’t Forbid It
The New Testament explicitly teaches us to “let no one pass judgment on you… with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16). Many Christians believe (rightly, in my opinion) that this teaching, as well as the general abrogation of Old Testament ceremonial law, sets aside the Old Testament pattern of feast days tied to temple worship and sacrifice. The New Testament instead establishes a principle of simplicity and Christian liberty with regard to worship. While the moral force of the Fourth Commandment to “keep holy the Lord’s Day” remains in force, believers are free to gather for public worship whenever and wherever their local leadership agrees it is practical and advisable. Usually this is on Sunday (in celebration of Easter!), but nothing says they can’t invite you more than once a week. Good Friday might be a good day on which to do so.
11. But I Thought You Didn’t Like Lent?
As a Protestant and a pastor in a Reformed Church, I don’t believe the liturgical calendar as it is typically applied is a biblical or edifying practice, nor is it reflective of the simple form of worship found in the New Testament church. It is a part of medieval church practice which I find inimical, not conducive, to biblical faith, and therefore “protest” against and seek to reform.
However, this protest is quite specific in its nature, and is opposed to the compulsory and superstitious elements of the church calendar. In other words, it was wrong to burden believers with dietary restrictions during the season of Lent, because they impose a man-made law. Further, feast days honoring saints encouraged Christians violate the commandment to worship and honor the Lord God alone. But the earliest Reformed Christianity took a middle road. These Christians removed an obligatory church calendar, but left Christians free to commemorate those days tied explicitly to the Gospel career of our Lord, such as Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, and the Ascension.
12. Good Friday Only Comes Once a Year.
Pastor Lee’s byline includes a shameless plug for his church’s Good Friday Service.