Good Friday services are hard. The attendance is small, the hymns are depressing, the Bible stories are full of tragedy, and it’s hard to find anything to hope in. Even the theology is brutal! I understand why people want to stay away. Palm Sunday and Easter are celebrations; Good Friday interrupts their joy with the stark reality of life in all its awfulness. We don’t need church to remind us of that; it’s already all around us.
It’s a particularly hard story to talk about with children. In comparison to Christmas, where we can wax eloquent about God taking the form of a baby (just like them!), we stumble and stammer when it comes to talking about death to our kids. We don’t want to imagine it for ourselves, let alone expose our kids to the horror and violence of this most gruesome of days. It’s much easier to talk about chocolate bunnies than it is about nails and blood.
But nails and blood are a part of life. Even our kids know that.
They know the scars that bullying leaves; they understand the desire to hit back when they’ve been hurt. They get angry at injustice, and incredulous that even “all powerful” adults can’t seem to run the world with the simplicity and logic of an eight-year old. “Why do good people have to die?” “Why is there violence, and torture, and exploitation, and racism?” “If we all understand what life ‘ought’ to be like, why can’t we just get on with it?” We could learn a lot from listening to the naïve angry questions of our eight-year olds!
Good Friday is the day when all our easy answers fall flat. Evil wins. Hopes die. We can’t just “get on with it” by ourselves, and Good Friday faces us with the consequences of failure when we imagine we should try.
And yet… just being there makes a difference. Gathering with others to sing and pray in the face of tragedy brings its own kind of hope. Even our youngest understand that being held by the ones who love you changes how we cope with disaster. Like the people of Paris who sang and prayed in the square as Notre-Dame Cathedral burned, we can find that even tragedy we can’t stop is easier to bear when we do it together. And then mysteriously, miraculously, Love is sustaining even when all human hopes crash and burn.
Going through Good Friday makes Easter make sense, for me. Chocolate bunnies are fun, but if you eat nothing but chocolate you’ll starve. And while I’d much prefer to shelter my kids so they never experience tragedy, the bald truth is that it would be impossible. Sooner or later they will discover what we all know – that not all hopes are realized and not all dreams succeed. Easter is the assurance that while all that may be true, it’s not the only truth that matters.
Easter is not just a celebration of new life; it’s a celebration of new life that overcomes death. It’s a celebration of new life that emerges after the worst of all possible tragedies. It’s a celebration of a power that snatches hope out of the worst of defeats. It’s a celebration of the power that inspires us to keep getting on with life as it "ought" to be like, and to trust that the naïve questions of an eight-year old are not really all that naïve after all.
Don’t shy away from Good Friday this week; we need to stand together and weep in the face of tragedy. But then join us on Sunday too to celebrate the power of God who brings new life when nothing else can.
— Stephen Fetter is the minister at Forest Hill United Church, an intercultural congregation in Toronto. He’s also the coordinator of United-in-Learning, the General Council’s online continuing education program.