What a difference a day makes. Unseasonably warm temperatures and bright sunshine gobbled up the last of our snow today. This morning our driveway was a ribbon of ice. Now it’s a sludgy path. The lawn is a sopping brownish-green sponge. In spite of the mucky mess and the unlikelihood of sustained warmth, there is a special kind of hope wafting in on the late winter breeze. The big sleep is almost over. Spring will come and reawaken the world around us.
The sights, sounds and smells of early spring never fail to take me back to my childhood, especially memories of Easter. Every year, just before Easter weekend, we would walk from our public school to the local United Church for a special “Good Friday” service. I have vivid memories of questions surrounding the whole event. Why were we having a Good Friday service on Thursday? Why did our Catholic classmates stay home from school on that day? (The small town I grew up in had no Catholic school at the time.) And most of all – what, exactly, made this Friday particularly good?
I recall sitting in the wooden pews in my new outfit and shiny shoes, fingering the tissue paper-thin pages of the Bible. We sang sad songs. Everyone looked very serious. I wondered when we would get to the good part.
My perplexity only increased as the minister began reading from “The Gospel of St. Matthew.” The story went from bad to worse as we heard of Jesus being beaten, humiliated and nailed to a cross. There was darkness at midday. Jesus cried out in agony and died. Then came an earthquake and dead people wandering out of their graves! It all sounded much more like a horror story to my young ears than anything that could even remotely be called “good.”
Once we were back at school we were dismissed and had a four day weekend ahead of us. I remember pictures of the Pope and throngs of worshipers on the news. I remember watching Anthony Quinn portray Barabbas in what seemed like a very long movie. And I remember thinking constantly of the dreadful story that I had heard in church, no matter how hard I tried not to think of it.
Sunday morning brought chocolates and flowers and a jubilant atmosphere in church. Yes, to my great relief, the Sunday school teacher told us the good news about Jesus rising from the dead. As comforting as that was, it did not eradicate the images stuck in my brain – a vicious mob, a crown of thorns, blood flowing and bones exposed while soldiers gambled for his clothing.
I realize now that I continued to think of Good Friday as some kind of grotesque misnomer well into adulthood. Reading accounts of the physical implications of crucifixion, picturing the abuse and torture that Christ endured, thinking of the loneliness and betrayal that surrounded him on that dark day only served to deepen my conviction that there was absolutely nothing good about that Friday.
Light will shine
Then, somewhere along the line it hit me – that was the day that good overcame evil. It seems so obvious now. There and then, on that monstrous hill the ultimate good was accomplished. His words, “It is finished,” marked the beginning of new life for all who believe, all who are called by the Sovereign Lord. In that single good work, Christ – uniquely qualified – harmonized the glory of God with the good of his children for all eternity. Only that gruesome, nothing-held-back goodness could have fulfilled such an incredible mandate. Nothing less would do. No one else could do it. What other name can we give it but “good?”
I love the way C.H. Spurgeon puts it: “Light springs from the midday midnight of Golgotha. […] The house of consolation is built with the wood of the cross.”
What a difference a day makes – this one above all others. Without Friday’s tragedy, Sunday’s triumph could not have come. The death and resurrection of Christ are fact. We cling to that knowledge as we wait for our Saviour’s return. The sure hope of his promise blows in with whatever winds of adversity we face. The night is almost over. The light will shine and awaken us as never before. And it’s only possible because of what happened on that particular day – that violent, ugly, painful Friday – that we call “good” in the truest sense of the word.