Updated: Jul 13, 2020
It’s Good Friday here in Russia. For my western friends the Easter holiday has passed already, but we in the east know how to bring up the rear, so to speak. “Let the west do their thing,” is the sentiment in most eastern minds. “They can have the practice run, and we’ll perfect it.”
Yesterday was Chistyy Chetverg, or “pure Thursday,” a day you’re supposed to clean your house to get ready for the biggest religious observance of the year, Pascha, which is Easter. For the Orthodox, Easter is a much bigger deal than Christmas, maybe we could even say and rightly so. It should be, shouldn’t it? Actually the Soviets did a great job scrubbing the celebration of Christmas by replacing it with the bigger and grander New Years’ holiday (and giving out free vodka every New Year’s Eve didn’t hurt). But they couldn’t quite manage to get Easter out of the Russian heart, no matter how much they tried. It stubbornly clung to the culture, and now almost 30 years after communism fell, it is still thriving and strong. Yes, we too have painted eggs and sunrise services, but there is no enormous, creepy bunny, thank God. The Russians find that a tad ridiculous, and again, I can’t help but agree. Upon analysis, a man-sized rabbit coming into my house while I sleep and hiding eggs and baskets isn’t really something I feel comfortable with, no matter how good the chocolate tastes.
But the Russians don’t call today “Good Friday.” Actually our pastor often comments on this, saying, “Our English brothers and sisters call today ‘Good Friday,’ can you imagine?” He likes to point out the irony of calling the most painful, horrendous, agonizing, awful, torturous day of Jesus’ life—“good.”
He’s got a point.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic, what we call good and what we call bad. It’s easy to fling around these words good and bad, casually categorizing and summarizing life in such broad brushstrokes, isn’t it? Coronavirus—it’s bad. And of course, we can get even more specific by saying it’s evil. It’s satanic. It’s a curse. I get that. You look at the fruit of a pandemic, and you see death and loss and sorrow and pain, all on a level we could call catastrophic. How could it be anything but “bad,” to the very worst degree?
Reminds me a little of the story of Peter, who like so many of us would, saw an event like a crucifixion as something unquestioningly bad. (Dear, misguided Peter, thank God for his big mouth so I know I’m not the only one). As a matter of fact, it was so apparent to him, that he felt it was incumbent upon himself to take Jesus aside just to correct Him, help Him understand a little bit more about good and bad. “This will surely not happen,” he says to Jesus, and I can just sense the slightly patronizing tone as he points out what he feels is the most obvious thing in the world. Jesus’ reply surely stunned him and destroyed that cocky confidence in an instant. “Get behind me, Satan, for you do not have in mind the things of God…”
The “things of God” being the torture and death of His Son.
Shortly after this, Jesus enters into what we call “the passion”--pierced, beaten, whipped, tortured, maimed and mangled beyond human recognition, he hangs to death on a tree. If there was ever anything on this earth that could be called bad, this was it. Bad doesn’t cover it. Bad is hopelessly inadequate to describe this event. Bad sounds like a cosmic joke when we try to contemplate and comprehend this tragedy with our human minds. Bad, yes bad to the millionth degree and beyond, because none of us will ever know just how bad badness can be. Only one man knows, and he knows so we don’t have to.
But we don’t call it Bad Friday. We call it Good.
Let that sink in again…we—call—it—GOOD.
Why do we call it “good?” We call it good only because we can look back. Only because we can see that after Friday was done, Sunday came, resurrection came, the grave was empty, and Jesus rose from the dead! The ultimate bad became the ultimate good. It was the greatest reversal in human history, the greatest victory of good over evil, the ultimate triumph of hero over villain that can be imagined. Satan’s gluttonous glee of Friday became his screams of agony on Sunday. This we now know. We know because to be on the other side of something brings total clarity and understanding. Ah, yes, of course it had to be this way, we say. Easy to say, easy to see, easy to call it now “good.”
But on that Friday it wasn’t easy to see. We simply must understand this, we have to have this revelation pierce our minds and hearts and sink deeply inside... Somehow this must become the bedrock of our understanding of all events of life, of all what we call “good” and what we call “bad.” There is a tension that Good Friday teaches us, a place where these interpretations and terms we so easily slap on everything that happens to us get washed away as our mouths drop open and words vanish in awe of this God, this awesome, amazing, wonderful God, who is so, so good.
Do you know why this Friday is good? BECAUSE GOD IS GOOD, always good. He can never, ever be anything but good. And if we will insist on categorizing events and experiences into good and bad (and we will, because we are human), let us instead take our first step towards Christian maturity by allowing for the shrouding and mystery of a holy God, who makes all things beautiful in their time. The incredible joy and peace of a disciple of Christ never comes from any event, experience, or even “blessing,” but from a deep, unshakeable knowing inside that God is indeed, always and forever, good.
I’m not trying to say we should start calling coronavirus good, or any tragedy, sickness, pain, or loss “good.” If you think that’s the point of what I’m writing, you missed the point altogether. The point is we don’t know, we simply do not and cannot understand these lives we live on this fallen, broken planet because we’re still in it, we are in many ways still experiencing Good Friday. Friday felt to those going through it like the worst day in the whole history of humanity, and on that day, it really was the worst. Peter’s effort to stop that with his simplistic, humanistic interpretation of good and bad could not change anything. It was only when he gave up his limited, temporal understanding of events and stopped trying to interpret them altogether that he could dive into the goodness of the Savior.
I know one good on this planet, and one good only: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in whom all things were created and have their being. And if He is good, then I can trust all things to become good for me through Him (see Romans 8:28). Good Friday is constantly bringing forth Resurrection Sunday, and I no longer need to figure out which is which. He has made, and will make, all things good and this is the hope of every Good-Friday experience we can ever have.