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Good Friday



A crucifix draped in black fabric

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the church year. It holds profound significance for Christians, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. We solemnly remember the sacrificial acts of Jesus, who bore the sins of humanity and “reconciled to himself all things, whether in heaven or on earth, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20)


As we commemorate Good Friday, we enter a period of profound reflection and reverence, pondering the immense weight of Christ’s sacrifice and the boundless depth of his love for us. Christians worldwide pause on this day to contemplate a pivotal moment in our salvation narrative when God’s immense love for us found full expression in Jesus’s sacrifice on a wooden cross.


In Scripture


The story of Good Friday—the betrayals, trials, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ—is recounted in all four of the Gospels.


Christ Before the Jewish Leaders


After Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, he faced several trials before different authorities. First, the Jewish religious leaders, including the high priest Caiaphas, brought against him accusations of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God. Despite Jesus’ silence, the council found him guilty and sentenced him to death.


Christ Before Pilate


However, lacking the authority to execute, they sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, accusing him of claiming to be king and thus challenging Roman rule. According to Luke, Pilate also sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, who was in Jerusalem at the time, but Herod, finding no fault in Jesus, sent him back to Pilate. After questioning Jesus and finding no fault, Pilate attempted to release him. He offered the crowd a choice between freeing Jesus or Barabbas, a notorious insurrectionist. The crowd, incited by the chief priests, chose Barabbas.


Pilate, symbolizing his innocence of Jesus’ blood by washing his hands, reluctantly handed Jesus over to be crucified at the crowd’s insistence.


The Crucifixion and Burial


Roman soldiers mocked, beat, and crowned Jesus with thorns. They forced him to carry his cross to Golgotha (“the place of the skull”), where they crucified him between two criminals. Pilate ordered a sign declaring him “King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek to be affixed above Jesus’ head, infuriating the Jewish leaders.


Darkness covered the land during the crucifixion, and Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Before dying, he entrusted his mother to the beloved disciple John and declared, “It is finished.” Upon his death, the temple curtain tore in two, an earthquake occurred, and tombs opened. These signified the moment’s momentous nature.


Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin who had not consented to the council’s decision, requested Jesus’ body from Pilate. He was granted permission, so he took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and placed it in his new tomb, which he had carved in the rock. The tomb was sealed with a large stone and guarded by Roman soldiers.


Prophetic Fulfillment


Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice fulfills Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, affirming Jesus as the promised Savior. These prophecies underscore the belief that the prophets foresaw his life, death, and resurrection as part of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. 


Perhaps the most pointed prophecies about Jesus’ suffering and death come from the book of Isaiah, where we find a “suffering servant” despised, rejected, and bearing the sins of many. The suffering servant clearly prefigures Jesus’s crucifixion and the purpose behind it: offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. 

  • Psalms 22 begins with the words Jesus cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The psalm goes on to describe details mirroring the crucifixion scene. These include being surrounded by enemies, having pierced hands and feet, casting lots for the sufferer’s clothing, and ending in praise to the Lord, “for he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

  • Zechariah 12:10 says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child…” This is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ side being pierced by a spear during His crucifixion (John 19:34-37).

  • Psalms 34:20 prophesies the protection of the righteous man’s bones: “He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” This is fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion, as His legs were not broken to hasten death (a common practice), which was unusual for crucifixion victims (John 19:33-36).


The Good Friday Service


Good Friday holds a prominent place in Christian church history, dating back to at least the 4th century in Jerusalem. Egeria, a pilgrim who visited Jerusalem during Holy Week, provides an account of the procession of Christ’s actual cross through the streets to Golgotha, where Christ’s followers venerated it.


Stark Symbolism


In modern Good Friday services, the atmosphere is solemn as we silently contemplate Christ’s death. The service, held from noon until 3 p.m., symbolizes Jesus’s last hours on the cross. As the liturgy commences, we are starkly confronted with a stripped-down church. The altar lacks a cross, candlesticks, or altar cloths. Black veils shroud any symbol of Christ, and the clergy wear solid black, signifying mourning.

We stand as a wooden cross is processed to the front of the church.

O ye people who pass by on your journey, behold and see,Look upon me: Could there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow?Behold and see, all ye people come, give heed,And consider my grief and sorrow.– O Vos Omnes by Tomas Luis de Victoria

Veneration of the Cross



The Veneration of the Cross begins. This ancient practice appeared in the first centuries of the church in Jerusalem. During the Veneration of the Cross, we honor the cross and its meaning in our lives. We remember the words of John 3:16-17:

​​For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.

We recite holy anthems, marveling at what God accomplished for us through the Cross of Christ.

Churches never celebrate Holy Communion on Good Friday. However, some celebrate the Mass of the Presanctified, where the clergy give the congregants the Blessed Sacrament retained overnight at the Altar of Repose. This is the last time anyone will receive the Eucharist until Easter. 


The service concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, and all depart in silence.


The Stations of the Cross


Many churches also offer the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, is a devotional practice that commemorates the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This tradition involves meditative walking through fourteen stations, each representing a specific event from Jesus’s final day on Earth. This practice allows Christians to make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer, meditating on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. Each station typically features a cross and sometimes a plaque or artwork depicting the scene, around which the faithful gather for prayer and reflection.


The origins of the Stations of the Cross date back to early Christianity when pilgrims in Jerusalem would retrace Jesus’s path to Golgotha, known as the Via Dolorosa. Over time, since not all Christians could make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the practice of replicating this path in local churches emerged, becoming formalized in the late medieval period. 


Ways to Observe Good Friday


  • Read Luke 23:1-54, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and Psalm 22.

  • Attend a Good Friday service at your church. 

  • Observe a fast since this is a significant fast day for the church. Traditionally, we consume no meat or alcohol. Many choose to observe a complete fast from all food and drink except water. Note: Do not impose this on children. However, adults and older children can do this if they choose. If you cannot observe a complete fast, try to eat very small and bland meals that require no cooking. 

  • Walk the Stations of the Cross with your family. 

  • Watch a film about Jesus or listen to sacred music.

  • Put black crepe over any crosses in your home. 

  • Have everyone wear black for the day. Explain to your children that we are in deep mourning as we remember Christ’s suffering and death.

  • Make Hot Cross Buns. Traditionally, Christians have eaten these after the Good Friday service. They originated at Saint Alban’s Abbey in 1361 when the monks distributed them to the poor. They are cut or iced with the sign of the cross.  


Hot Cross Buns


Ingredients:


BUNS

  • 1 package dry yeast

  • ¼ cup warm water (100-110 degrees)

  • 1 teaspoon white or light brown sugar

  • 1 cup milk

  • ½ cup butter

  • 1/3 cup brown or raw sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • 4 to 4 ½ cups sifted flour

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg

  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger

  • 2/3 cup dried currants or raisins


Icing:

  • 2 tablespoons milk

  • 4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (more if needed)

  • Grated rind of one lemon



Directions:


  1. Sprinkle the yeast into the lukewarm water. Stir in one teaspoon sugar. Let sit until frothy.

  2. Scald the milk. Add the butter, sugar and salt. Stir until blended. Cool to lukewarm. Beat the eggs until light, and combine with the milk mixture. Add the yeast.

  3. Sift 3 ½ cups of the flour with the spices into a mixing bowl. Make a well, and pour in the yeast mixture. Beat for 5 minutes.

  4. Toss the currants with the remaining ½ cup of flour. Mix into the dough.

  5. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary. The dough should be fairly firm; otherwise, it will not take the cuts for the cross.

  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover the dough with a towel and put it to rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in volume; this will take about two hours.

  7. Punch the dough down. Shape it into two dozen buns. Place them 1 ½ to 2 inches apart on well-greased cookie sheets or in muffin tins. With a sharp knife, cut a cross on the top of each bun. Allow them to rise until doubled in bulk, 30 to 45 minutes.

  8. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

  9. For the frosting: Mix the milk with enough sugar so that the icing is not runny. Add the rind. Brush a cross on the top of each bun.


Recipe from A Continual Feast by Evelyn Vitz.

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