By Allen Tennison, Ph.D.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:18
The no good, very bad day
One of my four-year old son’s favorite books is the classic Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It begins with young Alexander waking up with gum in his hair and continues through a series of childhood catastrophes such as having to sit in the middle seat on the way to school, being demoted to #3 best friend by his #1 best friend, not finding dessert in his lunch bag, learning he has a cavity at the dentist’s office, and so on.
Alexander repeatedly proclaims this to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and that he is moving to Australia. By the end, he learns from his mother that you can have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days even in Australia.
For almost a month I read the book to my son daily. For two months he let me know that when he grew up, he was moving to Australia. I would remind him each time that you can have bad days even in Australia. This week I am reminded that you can have bad days in Israel too.
The Friday before Easter is traditionally called “Good Friday.” This may sound strange to modern ears when you consider what the day is known for. Originally “good” carried the meaning of “holy” so that Good Friday is aptly named as part of Holy Week. As “good” loses its sense of “holy” in our culture, however, calling the day of Jesus’ crucifixion “good” may make less sense to us now.
Perhaps “Good Friday” should be renamed something along the lines of “the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Friday.” The death of Jesus happened when he breathed his last but the dying of Jesus lasted hours.
He had been beaten so badly that someone else had to carry his cross. Beyond the physical trauma, there was emotional suffering of being betrayed, abandoned and abused. Just as Mary watched her son die, so Jesus watched his mother watch him die. While there is debate about what Jesus meant when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” it at least means Friday was not a good day to be Jesus.
The innocence of Jesus
Another reason why it was a bad Friday is that there is almost no person in the story who remains innocent of bad behavior. Judas betrays Jesus. Peter denies knowing Jesus. The other disciples abandon Jesus. The Sanhedrin and the Roman governor treat Jesus unjustly. The guards torture Jesus. The crowd calls for the death of Jesus. Jesus is mocked by almost everyone as he dies. He is the only innocent man in the story and Jesus dies in one of the worst ways imaginable at the hands of the guilty.
I sometimes offer this thought experiment with my students. Imagine when we stand before God on the Day of Judgment, all of our days are listed around a wheel which spins until it stops on some random day in our life. What if God judged our entire life based on that one day? Some of my students acknowledge that they have particular days in mind they would not want to represent them before God.
Now imagine that God has a wheel on which are listed all the days of humanity. The wheel spins until it stops on the day by which God will judge the whole world, and that day is Good Friday.
On that day we see humanity for who we are. We are a people that betray companions, abandon friends, reward truth with violence and knowingly sentence the innocent to death. What if God judged humanity based on how humanity treated Jesus on that one day? On Good Friday, Jesus did not just bear the sin of the world. His death was the sin of the world.
On Good Friday, however, God treated our sin against Jesus as the final sacrifice for all our sin. We crucified the Lord of glory, and God regarded his death as the answer for our salvation. The wheel stopped on our worst day, and God used it as the way to make us holy.
Good Friday may be called bad because of what happened to Jesus but consider what happened for all of humanity on that day. Good Friday shows us at our worst but it also reveals God’s love at its best. Good Friday isn’t good because Jesus suffered. It is good because of how God counted the suffering of Jesus, not as the sin that condemns us but as the sacrifice which saves us.