Today is the day that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ hung and died on the cross for our sins. Why in the world would we call this day “good?” Why call a day good when it was filled with pain, suffering and death? This day is good for us, (even called great in some traditions), not because of what happened, but because of what it accomplished. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection you and I are rescued from death.
Different religious traditions commemorate this day in many ways. Some communities hold a “way of the cross” where folks walk through town, with several people taking turns leading the group while carrying a large cross – symbolic of Jesus carrying his cross to the place of crucifixion. In the Roman Catholic tradition the stations of the cross are an important component of remembering the day. Even within the Lutheran tradition in which I’m a part customs vary. Worship services may include what are referred to as the “Seven Last Words” or statements from Jesus on the cross, or larger readings from the Passion (reading from Jesus’ arrest through death), or some combination of both. Some congregations will have a “Tenebrae” (Darkness) services in the evening, in which the church literally becomes darker as lights are turned off until the faithful are left in complete darkness (symbolizing the darkness that came over the land when Christ died). It is generally NOT a practice to celebrate communion on Good Friday. The altar is still stripped and bare from the previous evening. Christ is gone from us, and we are to experience that loss.
Whatever our individual and congregational practices, the focus of Good Friday is remembering and making present Jesus’ suffering and death for you and me. I find the service of darkness personally meaningful, and in my own family we have a tradition of saving our Christmas tree and cutting it into a cross on Good Friday. It helps reinforce for us and our children the connection between Christmas and Easter. Our little cross is displayed on our lawn until the festival of Pentecost when the Easter season ends.