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How can it be good?

Good Friday
What a name
For a day when
Darkness seemed to reign.

Good Friday
Daring hope
In a God who
Took our shame and pain.

Good Friday
Yes it is.
For our God did
Not stay dead.

Good Friday
For we know
That our Savior
Reigns. He rose instead.

If there were ever a phrase that reminds us how hard and necessary it is to hold two contrary ideas at the same time, it is the words: Good. Friday.

How can a day filled with violence toward the innocent be rendered good? How can a day that left Jesus’ followers scattered, lonely and confused be good? For those who lived through it, it wasn’t yet good. And it is good for us to sit for a while in that reality with them. “Step into the shoes of the disciples,” my little liturgy book encourages today, “who did not know Jesus would rise from the dead. Imagine your world without the resurrection.”

Read through John 18 and 19 — and read no further. Stop, abruptly, at the words, “they laid Jesus there.”

We were reading the familiar story to our children this morning as they ate their eggs. They asked why I wept at the “crown of thorns” and “purple robe.” Because, dear ones, he is our King, and the people did not see it. They tried to mock him with these trappings of Lordship, but he was their Lord all along. A servant king who washed feet the night before. An all-powerful God who permitted a crown and robe of pain. He wore those things for us. He was humbled and shamed before he was exalted. In the ultimate irony of an upside-down kingdom, he turned the cross into a coronation.

I remember feeling the weight of Good Friday as if for the first time on an April day in 2010. I was a reporter at a small newspaper in Anacortes, Washington, where tragedy had struck the night before. Across a little bay from our house, a heat exchanger at a local oil refinery exploded, killing three people that night and another four in the coming weeks, seven in all. I woke to the rush of reporting on it, and also to the weight of it.

I lived closest to the scene, so I reported from a nearby coffee shop, talking to others who had felt the ground shake in the middle of the night. I remember sending in my contribution to the breaking news story and then sitting in my car for a while, weeping. It was Good Friday, the day that we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, and it felt like it. The rain was coming down heavier than usual. Gray smoke from the explosion lingered in the midday sky. And I asked God, “How can you call this day good?”

Many might be asking that today, a decade later, as the coronavirus seems to take over more and more lives. Where I live near Washington, D.C., no one is unaffected. We’re all homebound but for grocery runs and essential work. The fortunate ones, like us, still have work they can do, even if it feels impossible with kids at home, too.

Outside, most days are sunny and spring-like lately. Sometimes, on a long enough walk, taking in the tulips and dogwoods and redbuds, you can almost forget the tragedy that’s taking hold of the world. Your soul sinks into the rhythms of God’s creation, remembering, without a word, that he is still making all things new. That he brings life — surprises us with it — where, a day or two ago, there was only death.

Last night, we tuned into our church’s online Maundy Thursday service. We served ourselves grape juice and Tam Tam crackers and ached for the communal part of communion. We heard again just how off-key we can be when our singing isn’t drowned out by the rest of the saints. We took in the pastor’s reminder, once again, that this is not how it will always be. As Sandra McCracken sings:

“We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more.”

It’s OK that we weep today. In fact, it’s good. As Andrew Peterson sings, “This is the dark before the dawn.”

And I believe it will be brighter for it.