Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday: traditions and the trials of Jesus

Today is Good Friday the day Christians commemorate Jesus’s crucifixion and death on the cross. It is observed on the Friday before Easter Sunday. The origin of the word “good” in Good Friday is unclear. There are traditions to commemorate the events of Good Friday. The trials Jesus had to endure leading up to his crucifixion and his final words as he dies on the cross are worthy of remembrance.

Some people may ask why the day is referred to as Good Friday when it’s the day in which Jesus is killed. There are some conflict as to the origin of the word “good” in Good Friday. Some claim “good” refers to pious or holy, while others claim it’s a corruption of “God Friday.” The Oxford English Dictionary supports the former claim with a definition as “a day or season observed as holy by the church.” It is interesting that in German speaking countries, Good Friday is generally known as Karfreitag. Kar is from the Old High German word, kara meaning “grieve” or “mourn” and Freitag is “Friday.” Essentially meaning Mourning Friday which fits the events of the day better as mourning is appropriate when someone dies. Those individuals who were there on that day didn’t know what was coming so “Mourning Friday” would fit what they were feeling.

There are a few Good Friday traditions that are followed around the world. A popular tradition is hot cross buns. Hot cross buns are spiced sweet buns made with currants or raisins marked with a cross on the top. The ban mark the end of Lent. The cross represents the crucifixion of Jesus and the spices used to embalm Jesus at his burial. When I was in the fourth grade, I learned the nursery rhyme to hot cross buns on the recorder. The lyrics go: “Hot cross buns!/Hot cross buns!/One a penny two a penny/Hot cross buns!/If you have no daughters/give them to you sons/One a penny two a penny/Hot cross buns! The earliest recording is in the Christmas Box London 1798) and earlier references as a London street cry recorded in Poor Robin’s Almanac in 1733. Another tradition is many churches recreated the path that Jesus took with the cross. Generally, following a person carrying a cross, the congregation stops at certain points to read Bible passages or sing a hymn before heading to church for a service.

Over the course of six trials, Jesus is questioned, tortured and beaten. The first three were before the religious leaders and the next three were before the Roman authorities. First, a preliminary hearing before Annas, the high priest (John 18:12-24). Second, a hearing before Caiaphas Annas’ son-in-law (Matthew 26:57-68, Mark 14:53-65) Third, a trial before the Sanhedrin, 70 member Jewish council (Matthew 27:1-2, Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66-71). Here the religious leaders who charged him with blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God and approve the previous trials before sending Jesus to the Roman authorities. The religious leaders had condemned Jesus to death on religious grounds but only the Roman authorities could grant the death penalty. Jesus’ first appearance before Pilate (Matthew 27:11-14, Mark 15:2-5, Luke 23:1-5, John 18:28-37), the Roman governor was for the charge of treason and rebellion crimes. Pilate saw that Jesus was innocent but was afraid to set him free for a possible uproar caused by the religious leaders. So Pilate sends Jesus to stand trial before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12). Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee and was in Jerusalem for the Passover. He asked Jesus questions and demanded to see miracles but Jesus refused to answer. Herod then sent him back to Pilate. The sixth and final trial was before Pilate (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, John 18:39-19:16). He knows Jesus is innocent and he knows that a religious uprising would cost him his position as governor, so he tries to compromise and have Jesus beaten to satisfy the leaders. When that didn’t appease them, he finally gave in and hands Jesus over to be executed.

Jesus is led away to be crucified to the place called Golgotha (The Skull) where he is nailed to the cross and hangs there as his body is essentially crushed under its own weight and breathing is extremely difficult. The gospels record his final words. Both Matthew and Mark record him saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Luke records him saying “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46) and John records “It is finished” (John 19:30). He was laid in a borrowed tomb. The tomb is sealed and Roman guards stood watch as to deter any followers from stealing Jesus’ body. Little did they know that the seal and the guards wouldn’t stop what would happen next.

In conclusion, on Good Friday, Jesus completed the second part of his mission. He died on the cross for our sins when he was completely innocent. He took our sins upon himself so that God his father had forsaken him. While there is mourning on Good Friday, there is also rejoicing. For us, as believers, our sins have been paid with Jesus’s death on the cross. We have created many traditions to honor the day with hot cross buns or recreation of Jesus’s path to Golgotha. No matter what you do, remembering the price which he paid for us is the important part.