Since that moment when the reality sank into my heart as to what Jesus did for me upon the cross, Good Friday has always been the most precious of days. During the years of my ministry, it is the preparation of the Good Friday service over which I spend the greatest amount of time and attention every year. Without question, it is my favourite service, as we gather in the greatest solemnity, listen to the terrible story of his suffering and passion, and try to comprehend the majesty of our Saviour’s sacrifice and pain, all born for you and for me, as if we were the only one for whom he endured the cross. The writer of the Hebrews intuitively grasped the mystery when he urged us to keep our focus and attention upon Jesus, author and perfector of our faith who, “for the joy that was set before him” endured the cross, despising its shame. The joy set before him that gave him the purpose, courage and incredible volume of love to accept the humiliation, endure the torture, forgive his butchers, and complete his task, was gaining the victory of salvation for us, his beloved.
And that causes me to wonder why it is that so many Christians seem uninterested or unwilling to make Good Friday a priority in terms of their worship. The early church leaders wisely noted that we cannot truly receive the crown save we bear the cross, and to my mind, we are in danger of missing the breadth and depth of the glory and power of the resurrection, when we want to avoid Calvary. As we gather in a darkened sanctuary, as we walk through the passion narratives, as we sing such wonderful laments and confessions as “When I survey the wondrous cross,” or “Once again” (with its refrain that once again I look upon the cross where you died, I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside) or “How deep the Father’s love for us” (with its acknowledgement that it was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished – his dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished), and as we wait in prayer before a purple draped cross, we gain a wise perspective of both our ever present need for grace, and the awesome gift which Christ Jesus secured for us through his blood.
And that leads me to holy Saturday. Because of Good Friday, I often find Saturday a deep and pensive day. The shadow of the cross and the vision of my Lord’s death for my sake hangs over, even on such a glorious spring day as was today. Not in a maudlin or gloomy sense, but I have often found over the years that on holy Saturdays, midst whatever else I may be doing, there is part of my consciousness still sitting in the darkened sanctuary marveling at how great a price God paid to win my heart to himself. The terrible truth sinks in that like Judas, I have too much betrayed Jesus in favor of the trinkets and treasures our world holds dear, and yet he prayed for God to forgive me. The awful admission is pulled from my heart that like Peter, I have denied my loyalty to Jesus – perhaps not in the blatant lie of the fishermen before accusing maid servants – but certainly in too easily, too often and worse, too unconsciously, happily blending into mainstream society, unwilling to stand out as a follower of Jesus. And from the cross, Jesus prayed for God to forgive me. On holy Saturday, I find the echoes of Good Friday drawing me to confess my hard-heartedness, my cowardice, my confusion, my fickleness, my unwillingness to give my all. Yet with arms stretched out in agony, Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
On holy Saturday, I often find myself, figuratively, wanting to wait by the tomb, in cleansing repentance and happy awe not only that Jesus bore the cross for me, but that from the cross, spoke words of such eternal comfort, immediate mercy and ever present grace.
Which, for me, makes the glory of Easter even more wondrous. Lament gets turned to laughter. Tears of sorrow turn into tears of joy. Hearts broken with sadness and sorrow are mended with the most incredible, amazing and wonderful good news words imaginable: He is risen! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
I love Good Friday. It is well named because of the good Christ secured for me. And I love holy Saturday, well named also, because it is a day to be still and to ponder the holy love of him who suffered and died and descended to hell that we might be saved and brought alive and filled with the confident hope of heaven. It is good and holy to wait and wonder, that Easter joy might overflow.