For many years, I’ve loved a story told by theologian Tony Campolo. It takes place in his church, during a revival where preachers from several local congregations were invited to speak. While the goal was always to bring people closer to Jesus, secondarily, each preacher hoped to out preach the rest. Tony remembers that he was on his game that particular morning, and when he sat down, he looked over at the preacher sitting next to him and whispered, “good luck.” His counterpart simply responded, “Son, sit back. The old man is going to do you in.” For the next half hour, that preacher did him in with basically one line, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”
For many years, I’ve loved this idea of “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” but after thirteen months of Lent, I’m beginning to understand that what makes this Friday Good really has nothing to do with what will happen on Sunday morning. Instead, Good Friday, I believe, is good all on its own. It would be good even if Jesus wasn’t resurrected from the dead on Easter morning. Holy Saturday and Easter Day are good on their own merit as well, but this Friday is Good because of what Jesus Christ did on that Friday two thousand some-odd years ago. This Friday is Good because of the prophetic words Jesus spoke from the cross as he gave up his spirit.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words are, “It is finished.” What Jesus came to earth to do wasn’t almost done through his death on the cross, but it was finished, accomplished, complete. Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation was made complete through his entering fully into the suffering of humankind. As we’ve heard several times during this Lenten Season, Christ was lifted up to glory, not upon a throne, but upon the Cross. Through what theologians call Christus Victor, Jesus’ death is the moment of God’s victory over sin and death. By way of an act of divine love, God entered fully into the bondage of death and turned it inside out by making it a moment of victory, liberating all of humanity from the fear of death in order to live lives marked by the Way of Love. This Friday is Good because it is the day that Christ took away the sting of death forever.
Alternatively, in Mark and Matthew, Jesus quotes from Psalm 22 for his last words. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” These seem like words that are as far from good as one can imagine. Jesus, whom we believe to be God, feeling forsaken by God is very, very, not good. Yet, even these pain-wracked words of Jesus can be seen as good if we understand that part of what God came to do in the Incarnation was to fully enter into and redeem the human experience. All of us, at some time in our lives, will feel separated from God. Whether it is bound in grief, fear, or doubt, at some point, each of us knows the deep feeling of lostness when God feels far away. In Jesus’ final act in human flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity temporarily relinquished godship in the ultimate act of solidarity with humanity. This Friday is Good because it is the day that God experienced and redeemed godforsakenness.
It is Friday, and Sunday is coming. It’s Friday after thirteen months of deprivation, anxiety, and separation, and Sunday is coming. Sunday will be Good, but this Friday doesn’t need Sunday in order to be Good all on its own. Jesus Christ died that we might have life, that the sting of death might not have victory over us, that we might know that even God experienced what it means to feel separated from God’s unending love. It is Friday, and it is Good. Amen.