Today is Good Friday–the day Christians commemorate Christ’s death on a Roman cross over two-thousand years ago. Our church will meet at noon. Many will wear black. The songs are somber. It purposefully feels like a funeral. So why do we call it good?
Because we believe that Christ’s death on the cross is very special–a saving event for all who believe. The Bible teaches us that we deserve death for our sins–but that Jesus died in our place so that we may have eternal life. This is very, very good.
This mixture–this simultaneous bad and good–this celebratory funeral–this tragi-comedy–this co-mingled morning and rejoicing is fundamental to human experience. We laugh and mourn with tears– as we look to the Man of Sorrows who will permanently dry our eyes.
Here’s a famous contemplation of the Cross of Christ from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, first printed in 1678, it’s one of the most published books of all time–remaining in print for nearly 350 years. It’s fiction, a religious allegory–one that countless Christians have found tremendously encouraging:
Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore did the burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre [grave]. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
Then Christian was glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart, ‘He have given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.’ Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three Shining Ones came to him and saluted him with ‘Peace be unto thee’. So the first said to him, Thy sins be forgiven thee; the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment [clothes]; the third also set a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll [scroll] with a seal upon it, which he bade him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate. So they went their way.
Who’s this? the Pilgrim. How! ’tis very true,
Old things are past away, all’s become new.
Strange! he’s another man, upon my word,
They be fine feathers that make a fine bird.
Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing–
Thus far I did come laden with my sin;
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in
Till I came hither: What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, 32.