Last year, Nick Baines wrote a helpful and provocative post about embracing the desolation of Good Friday (and, indeed, Holy Saturday) without importing the triumph of Easter Day. In it, he argues that we should restrain ourselves from singing the joyful songs that come from knowing the outcome of Easter, and embrace the darkness.
I can see his point, and it has much to commend it, especially in evangelical Christian circles where we can default into triumphalism at all sorts of inappropriate times. Think of the ways in which some funerals become only a celebration of the deceased’s life, and leave little room for grief. That isn’t limited to evangelicals, or indeed Christians. It is part of a wider cultural movement that does not want to feel the sting of death.
I can see Nick’s point too, when I consider the members of churches who avoid Good Friday worship, but who will be at church early on Easter Day. We have people in our churches who can’t cope with the Cross. Not that anyone should cope with it in the sense of managing it – you could say it is meant to be unmanageable – but there are many who wish to live in denial of it, even referring to it as a tragedy or a defeat, completely failing to appreciate the magnitude of its victory.
Yet I wonder too whether this last group of people might be the very ones who especially need the linking of Good Friday and Easter Day. Not that I mean to let anyone off the hook in contemplating the sufferings of Christ, but because it is central to our faith to believe in the victory of Christ, and you can only appreciate that when you link the death and resurrection of Jesus. And given the way I have heard some church people say that Good Friday is ‘the most tragic day of the year’, I do wonder whether they believe the Gospel.
Like it or not, we cannot approach Good Friday without a measure of interpretation. It is there in the inspired writings of the Gospels, although we are perhaps so used to the text that we don’t always see it. And one thing is for sure: for the Gospel writers, the death of Jesus was not a defeat.
And also, whether we like it or not, it is (near) impossible to read the text as if we don’t know what is going to happen next. When I hear people ask me to read something ‘as if for the first time’, I know they are going to ask me something I probably can’t achieve. The trouble is, we do know the ending.
So how do you prefer to approach Good Friday? With a knowledge of the ending? Or trying to enter into the story as if you don’t know what will happen? What are the pros and cons for you?