Article | April 7, 2023
Congregation Update: What’s So Good About Good Friday?
Blog|The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi
What’s so good about Good Friday?
It’s a fair question to ask of this solemn observance, centered around the cross and passion. Good Friday is not a funeral for Jesus, but it does take us to Calvary and to the tomb. Good Friday asks to draw near to the savior who chose solidarity with those condemned to human violence, over any clean escape that might be afforded by his divine office. We go as willingly as Jesus himself did. The events of Good Friday are entered into fully because they are integral to the Easter story, to resurrection. And with this trust, we venerate an instrument intended for torture, praying an ancient antiphon: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.”
The long shadow cast over Good Friday is not just our Christian experience around the cross, it is that of our neighbors. This is especially true of the Jewish people, who, in the name of Christian supremacy and anti-semitism, have been subjected to violence on this day across the centuries, and made to feel that they were somehow outside the world to be redeemed. In addition, the themes of Good Friday have also been misused to defer the healing of human suffering to an afterlife, rather than making it our work in this life.
A growing dis-ease with this history prompted the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to charge an interim body with the study of the Good Friday liturgy, then, in 2022, to authorize new resources for trial use. This work has prompted lively scholarly debate about the use of the word “Jew” in scripture, especially the gospel according to John; the curation of the lectionary; and the substance of the Solemn Collects in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I give thanks to the many communities who will pray the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday in a more sensitive and responsible way because of this good work.
At Grace Cathedral, we continue the work of revising the Solemn Collects to enfold not just the Jewish people, but the whole world. The same arrogance and hatred which has led to specific violence against our Jewish neighbors contributes to the general degradation of the planet and its peoples. This is the sin of Christian supremacy. We may not each bear personal fault, but neither are we exempt from shared responsibility. If we can stand alongside Jesus on Good Friday, we must lay down any illusion that we are part of an elite or protected class, and follow in his humble way, as a self-offering for the life of the whole world.
Our ancient liturgies must be continually revised to respond to the present and to God’s mission for the world. This is inherently a slow process. The liturgy is not a lecture, but a common prayer and work in which the whole body shares. It is more than words, and more than any one of us, and should, from time to time, take us out of our heads and sweep us off our feet. In these Great Three Days, preparing for Easter joy, let us pray:
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Blessed Holy Week,
The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi
Director of Interfaith Engagement