Good Friday Definition

Good Friday Definition

As the season of Lent, a period of reflection in preparation for Easter, comes to a close, many Christians observe Good Friday. This day, unsurprisingly, occurs on the Friday after Holy Thursday and before Easter Sunday. This year, Good Friday takes place on April 2. But what is Good Friday, and why do we celebrate it?

“Good Friday is the day Christians commemorate the suffering and execution of Jesus by the Roman-occupying empire in Jerusalem,” says professor and Jesuit priest Bruce Morrill, PhD, Edward A. Malloy Chair of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. “The day focuses on the passion and death of Jesus.”

It is often a solemn day, observed by some with a day of fasting. It’s then followed by the three days that Jesus was laid in the tomb, before rising on Easter Sunday.

While we know the general idea of why the day is recognized, there are still a few questions that you might not know the answers to about this holy day. For instance, why do we call it “good” if it’s a solemn day? And how long has it been observed? You might be surprised by the traditions around this day, and what it means for the Easter season.

Why do we celebrate Good Friday?

The day has been commemorated for many centuries. “We have historical evidence from the 4th century diary of a wealthy woman, Egeria, who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,” says Morrill. “She wrote of her travels and included how Christians kept Palm Sunday and other rituals.” Eventually, as Christianity spread, the day was observed by other early churches in places such as Antioch, Rome, and Constantinople.

Why is it called Good Friday?

It is likely that this name comes from the word “good” once meaning “holy,” a theory supported by many linguistics and even the Oxford English Dictionary. Some linguistics and historians debate the theory that good might also come from it once being called “God’s Friday.” However, many cannot find a link between the two words, as Slate explains.

How is Good Friday celebrated?

Different ways of honoring the day have evolved, and many traditions and popular devotions still are practiced today.

In the Middle Ages, Francis of Assisi popularized a symbolic pilgrimage if you couldn’t make one to Jerusalem, known as Stations, or Way, of the Cross, says Morrill. The devotion includes crosses spaced at intervals (both indoors and out) alongside art such as paintings or sculptures depicting pivotal scenes from Jesus’s life. People stop to pray, meditate, and read or hear Biblical passages at each station. It’s most commonly prayed during Lent and especially on Good Friday.

a crowd gathers at calvario in sicily on good friday
A crowd gathers at Calvario in Sicily on Good Friday.

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Passion plays, which dramatize the final days of Jesus’s life, also started in the Middle Ages. One held in Oberammergau, Germany, has been performed every ten years all the way back to 1634.

Others are held annually in various places across the country such as San Antonio, Texas; Southington, Connecticut; and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Some faithful visit seven different churches on Good Friday, spending a moment of prayer at each. Others attend a service based on the seven last words (or direct quotes) of Jesus with readings of Bible passages, a sermon, prayers and hymns.

a passion play at the theatre of the oberammergau dated 1870
A passion play at the Theatre of the Oberammergau, dated 1870.

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Fasting and attending religious services are part of the commemoration for many on Good Friday. For example, for Roman Catholics, the religious service on Good Friday is the middle part of a three-day-long liturgy, or official rites, called the Triduum. “It’s the most sacred liturgy of the year,” says Morrill.

Anglican, Orthodox, and many Protestant faiths also hold special services on Good Friday to remember the suffering of Jesus in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

What’s So Good about Good Friday?

What is Good Friday and why do we call Good Friday “good” when it is such a dark and bleak event commemorating a day of suffering and death for Jesus?

Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, is the Christian holy day to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and His death at Calvary. It is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Great and Holy Friday, and Black Friday.

For Christians, Good Friday is a crucial day of the year because it celebrates what we believe to be the most momentous weekend in the history of the world. Ever since Jesus died and was raised, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. Paul considered it to be “of first importance” that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day, all in accordance with what God had promised all along in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

On Good Friday we remember the day Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (1 John 1:10). It is followed by Easter, the glorious celebration of the day Jesus was raised from the dead, heralding his victory over sin and death and pointing ahead to a future resurrection for all who are united to him by faith (Romans 6:5).

What is the Meaning of Calling it “Good” Friday?

Still, why call the day of Jesus’ death “Good Friday” instead of “Bad Friday” or something similar? Some Christian traditions do take this approach: in German, for example, the day is called Karfreitag, or “Sorrowful Friday.” In English, in fact, the origin of the term “Good” is debated: some believe it developed from an older name, “God’s Friday.” Regardless of the origin, the name Good Friday is entirely appropriate because the suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s plan to save his people from their sins.

In order for the good news of the gospel to have meaning for us, we first have to understand the bad news of our condition as sinful people under condemnation. The good news of deliverance only makes sense once we see how we are enslaved. Another way of saying this is that it is important to understand and distinguish between law and gospel in Scripture. We need the law first to show us how hopeless our condition is; then the gospel of Jesus’ grace comes and brings us relief and salvation.

In the same way, Good Friday is “good” because as terrible as that day was, it had to happen for us to receive the joy of Easter. The wrath of God against sin had to be poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, in order for forgiveness and salvation to be poured out to the nations. Without that awful day of suffering, sorrow, and shed blood at the cross, God could not be both “just and the justifier” of those who trust in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Paradoxically, the day that seemed to be the greatest triumph of evil was actually the death blow in God’s gloriously good plan to redeem the world from bondage.

The cross is where we see the convergence of great suffering and God’s forgiveness. Psalms 85:10 sings of a day when “righteousness and peace” will “kiss each other.” The cross of Jesus is where that occurred, where God’s demands, his righteousness, coincided with his mercy. We receive divine forgiveness, mercy, and peace because Jesus willingly took our divine punishment, the result of God’s righteousness against sin. “For the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus endured the cross on Good Friday, knowing it led to his resurrection, our salvation, and the beginning of God’s reign of righteousness and peace.

Good Friday marks the day when wrath and mercy met at the cross. That’s why Good Friday is so dark and so Good.

When Is Good Friday This Year?

This year, Good Friday will be on Friday, April 15th, 2022. Good Friday is always the Friday before Easter.

Good Friday Bible Verses

Romans 5:6-10 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Isaiah 53:3-5 – “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Matthew 27 – The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ

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 in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Mark 9:31 – “For he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

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