A linguistic quirk in the history of the English language has resulted in the term “Good Friday” being applied to the day on which Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified. Other languages, though, have more intuitively appropriate designations for this liturgical day, such as “Sad” or “Dark” or “Mournful” Friday. This variation of nomenclatures can serve as a catalyst for some comments on the fact that the events of Crucifixion Friday in scripture can be seen as both sad and good. Today, of course, we have the advantage of knowing what came on the Sunday after Dark Friday, when Jesus burst out of the tomb. On Friday, He appeared to be the victim, but on Sunday, He was clearly the Victor. On Friday, the darkness eclipsed the light; on Sunday, the Light overcame the darkness.
In our life experiences, the shadow of Friday is sometimes all we see and feel, but we still walk in the Light of that Resurrection Sunday, with an additional firm hope of eternal glory to come. We mourn the events of Dark Friday when Jesus was the victim of evil men, but we are buoyed by the realization that Jesus’ death was the necessary door that He had to go through to become the Victor over sin and death. He did not so much overcome His victimization as transform it by showing that victory was embedded in the very act of willing sacrifice. So His death can be seen as a sort of mine planted in the cross that the Devil stepped on unawares, bringing about his own doom and the explosive Life of the Resurrection.
This point of view is very effectively conveyed in the Old English poem, “The Dream of the Cross” (or “Dream of the Rood,” to use the Old English word for cross). In this poem, Jesus is represented as a hero coming to do battle with and overcome his foes. In the narrator’s dream, the cross of Christ speaks:
Then I saw the King of all mankind In brave mood hasting to mount upon me. . . . . Then the young Warrior, God the All-Wielder, Put off His raiment, Steadfast and strong; With lordly mood in the sight of many He mounted the Cross to redeem mankind. When the Hero clasped me I trembled in terror, But I dared not bow me nor bend to earth; I must needs stand fast. Upraised as the Rood I held the High King, the Lord of heaven. (trans. Charles W. Kennedy, 1960)
This is a lovely picture of Christus Victor as He “mounts” the cross, fully capable at any time of exercising His heavenly power to defeat His enemies. But scripture makes it clear that He had a more profound purpose than the exercise of worldly power. His design was to implement the “deeper magic” of God’s world (to use C. S. Lewis’s terminology in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and through the redemptive power of the Lamb of God to bring about an eternal victory, not just a temporal one. Jesus did indeed come as a conquering hero, but in the heavenly way of things, He had to endure defeat as an avenue to victory. Let us be willing to follow Him through that door of suffering and sadness to reap the victory in Jesus that lies on the other side.
Image: "Crucifixion" by Rooztography. CC License.