By Rick Hamlin
Guideposts Magazine and OurPrayer
I can remember asking my mom as a kid, “Why is it called Good Friday?” It completely baffled me. I’d gone to Sunday school long enough to know that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday. He was arrested, put through a trial, denied by his own, whipped, paraded through Jerusalem and crucified, dying after six hours of agony. What was so good about that? My mom must have given me an adequate response, that it’s a “good” day because if Jesus hadn’t died than he couldn’t have risen. But I don’t think I bought it. Not then. Not now.
I confess, as a believing Christian, I find Good Friday one of the toughest days of the year. I have celebrated it in various ways, none too happily. I have sung in choirs through a three-hour service. I have prayed my way through the stations of the cross. I have sat in a pew in a church near my office, meditating over the last words of Christ. And I have skipped the whole thing, far preferring the alleluias and flowers and jelly beans and chocolate eggs of Easter.
But I have to admit in my struggles with faith, the shadowy Good Friday moments count as much as those blissfully sunny Easter days (and here in the northeast, when is Easter ever warm and sunny?). When I pray, it’s the hard stuff that gets me really focused. A 42-year-old friend dies of cancer. “Why, God, why?” I ask, storming the heavens. A hard-working dad loses the job he was sure he was meant for. “What was that all about?” I wonder. An impoverished country gets pummeled by a devastating earthquake. “Have mercy, Lord,” I pray.
This seems to be the paradox of belief. As often as I try for a prevailing attitude of gratitude and joy, I learn more through the tough stuff. No, I wouldn’t ask for misfortune and wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but just as mistakes are supposed to be the better teacher, aren’t trials the ultimate crucible of faith? It can take a wake-up call of incipient disaster to give me a piercing clarity about all my blessings.
That’s how I manage to find my way to the good in Good Friday. Through prayer. Closing out the noise of the world, I ask for God’s help, looking for a measure of peace. Better yet, I can join with others who have much greater concerns than my own and pray for them. I do this now through Guideposts’ OurPrayer ministry. (Full disclosure: I’m the executive editor.) For 40 years we’ve made Good Friday a special day to remember the needs of others. Thousands of requests are sent in by mail or online, and every request is prayed for by OurPrayer staff or dedicated volunteers.
Log on to ourprayergoodfriday.org and you can submit your request or join in the praying. You can scroll down and see pretty quickly what people are going through – health issues, financial struggles, relationship problems, grief and loss. It can make for devastating reading, until you realize that every person there is putting their trust in God that help will come, that Easter isn’t all that far off.
One of my favorite pictures of Good Friday is by the African-American artist Henry Tanner. The disciples are in the foreground, coming back from the misery of Calvary. They don’t even see the glorious sky behind them. You want to say to them, “Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay. Something incredible is coming.” That’s my prayer these days. To see the good in Good Friday.