Christian writer, preacher and teacher Tony Campolo famously tells a wonderful story of a "preach off" in which he competed with several pastors in his predominantly African-American church.
Campolo thought he had preached an unbeatable sermon, but was surpassed by the patriarch of that congregation, who simply repeated over and over, "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!" The crowd's enthusiasm grew to fever pitch as he played on that theme.
"It's Friday. Jesus is arrested in the garden where He was praying. But Sunday's coming. It's Friday. The disciples are hiding and Peter's denying that he knows the Lord. But Sunday's coming. It's Friday. Jesus is beaten, mocked, and spit upon. But Sunday's coming. It's Friday. Those Roman soldiers are flogging our Lord with a leather scourge that has bits of bones and glass and metal, tearing at his flesh. But Sunday's coming. It's Friday. The Son of man stands firm as they press the crown of thorns down into his brow. But Sunday's coming. It's Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, bloody and dying. But Sunday's coming..."
This is how we get through Good Friday. We visit Golgotha only briefly, already looking ahead to the empty borrowed tomb. The only thing "good" about Good Friday is that Sunday is coming.
You don't have to be a Harvard theologian to know the importance of the crucifixion, but even so we rush too quickly through Good Friday on our way to Easter morning. In fact, most Christians do not even acknowledge Good Friday, at least not by their corporate worship. The attendance at our Good Friday service is always a fraction of what we see on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. I understand. Aside from the fact that we are not in the habit of worshiping on Friday, it is hard to fix our gaze upon the torture and slaughter of an innocent man, especially if we are somehow responsible.
If being a Christian is all about joy and peace and love, then it is much more desirable to wave our palm branches and shout hosanna, then just wait a week and behold the stone rolled away, with all the lilies and colorful eggs and chocolate that come with it. Good Friday is such a drag in between the two celebrations. Even Jesus himself wanted this cup to pass him by.
But today is Friday. For now, let us forget that Sunday is coming, and just live in the present moment. This is the day that the Lord has made, and even though we don't like it, we should live in it, because the Lord made it for us. God did not need the cross, and Jesus did not deserve it. The drama of this day was played out for us.
When I say we should live in it, I do not mean we should wallow in our guilt without acknowledging the pardon. But if we accept the pardon too quickly, we are in danger of denying the guilt. And when I suggest we should forget that Sunday is coming, I do not mean that we should live without hope, even for a day. Not even for a day should we pretend that the resurrection is not real. I am simply saying that we would do well to remember with gratitude and reverence that great historic moment when all the sin and violence and brokenness of the world converged at the intersection of two pieces of timber, and one man absorbed it all. The ground shook, the sky darkened, the temple curtain split, and a Roman guard made the understatement of all time, "Surely, this man is innocent!" If we can take a day off work with pay and remember our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, surely we can honor Jesus just a little on Good Friday. It's
Friday, and Sunday's coming.
But it's Friday.
Brian Dale is pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.