What’s Good about Good Friday?

Children often ask: ‘Why is it called Good Friday? Surely there’s nothing good about a man dying on a cross especially someone who did not deserve it. The straightforward answer to the question is that it’s not the events of Good Friday in themselves which are good, it’s rather what was achieved by Jesus through those events, the outcome. As someone once remarked, rose petals need to be crushed before we really smell the scent.
When we are facing pain, hardships or uncertainty, it can be very hard to see anything which is good in them. We often need to draw back, to widen the angle and look at the bigger picture before can see the good. As we attempt to thread our way through the present coronavirus crisis, it can be hard to spot any good outcomes. The mounting death toll, the effect on livelihoods and businesses compounded by our own isolation in varying degrees not to mention the ever-present fear of catching a serious dose of virus and how it might affect us. All this serves to make these springtime days seem very dark indeed. But good is there to be seen. Neighbours who might not speak in usual circumstances are looking out for each other. People are sharing their talents using various online platforms. We are discovering a whole new way of being church in the internet age, touching people who would not normally engage with what we do. Life will not be the same again. Just maybe it will be better!
But where is God in all this? Surely if he is all powerful, he could ensure lots of good rather than us having to go around looking for odd sticks of it here and there. Indeed, surely he could make sure there was only ever good stuff and bad things like war and Covid 19 simply did not happen at all?
There is a verse tucked away at the end of Genesis that might help a little here. ‘Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.’ (Genesis 50.20) It comes on the back of the Joseph story made popular by the Lloyd Webber musical ‘Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat.’ Joseph who had aggravated his brothers by being their father’s favourite with his coat of many colours, is sold as a slave to Egypt. Here Joseph rises to the top of Pharaoh’s court and gets to administer the distribution of food parcels at a time of famine. His brothers eventually come looking for food and after a few more twists and turns join Joseph in Egypt. But the tables are turned. They become fearful of their brother now given his high rank. Maybe, he will take it out on them and get his own back. It is at this point that we have these lovely and perceptive words on the lips of Joseph: ‘Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.’ Joseph takes that step back. He sees not only the good that has come to him personally through the evil of his brother’s jealousy but also has an eye to what God can now do, how his family might prosper in Egypt and become numerous. It would be part of the way in which God would fulfil his promises to his great grandfather, Abraham.
In this story, God does not intervene to somehow prevent the brothers acting from evil motives, making bad choices and doing bad things. Instead he takes the situation as it and uses Joseph’s honesty and faithfulness to work something good, something that eventually benefited even the perpetrators of the original evil.
The world in which we live is a complex mix of good and evil. We can see so much that is good in the beauty of nature, in scientific precision and artistic expression, in the warmth of human relationships and good turns from unexpected quarters. Then there is human selfishness, greed and exploitation along with natural disaster, sickness and unseen killers such as Covid 19. To understand fully the reasons why is beyond us. The bible record gives us the picture of a perfect world but one in which choice was possible. Choice had to be possible if human beings were to live in relationship with each other and with God. Wrong choices were made, and these affected not only the interaction of human beings resulting theft, lying and murder but also the spoiling of the planet.
As the bible story continues, it does not say that God gave up and abandoned the world. Nor does it say that he retreated to some obscure place where only the most intelligent or spiritual humans might find him after much seeking. Rather he stayed around. He interacted with Joseph’s family who became Israel, the Jews. As Joseph observed, he took hold of the bad stuff, not forcing anybody’s hand, but turning it for good. We can see that pattern throughout the old testament until the prophecies are fulfilled and in Jesus Christ, God makes himself flesh and lives amongst us for a time. Did that mean an end to bad choices, of people acting from evil motives? Far from it. God in Jesus suffers himself at the hands of many who were mired in their own self-interests from the Romans, to the Jewish leaders, to the mob, to Judas. The result is the grisly spectacle of the Son of God nailed to giblet. Yet God meant it for good. In the deepest mystery imaginable, a transaction is done, atonement is made, a price is paid that ransoms the world from the eternal consequences of bad choices and evil action. Thus, whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10.13)
As we look to celebrate Easter, that most joyful of feasts rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ along with the new life of spring and the hope of summer, we do so at a dark moment in world history. May the lesson, not only of Good Friday, but of the whole of the biblical story remind us that God is with us even in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23.4) More than that, if we call upon him and seek to be faithful to him, he will be redeeming, that is taking the bad choices we make and working them out for good. It is in relationship with our living Lord Jesus that this Friday becomes truly Good Friday.

Rev Jonathan Smith

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