As a child, I did not know the significance of Good Friday for Christians. For me, all it meant was a day off from school. One evening, I let it slip to a friend that I thought ‘Good’ Friday meant something good must have happened on this day.
My friend Lorraine stared at me in astonishment. Then she told me that Good Friday is actually a day of mourning as Christ was crucified on that day.
“Then what’s good about it?” I asked. She told me that Christ’s death symbolises the victory of good over evil, hence the ‘Good’. But I was more confused than ever, so she explained it to me.
The Crucifixion of Christ is known as ‘Good’ Friday in the English language. Good Friday was originally God’s Friday just as good-bye was originally God be with ye. Over the years, it has evolved into Good Friday and good-bye respectively. The other reason why it is ‘Good’, is that on this day the Son of God sacrificed his life for the people.
What were those times like? The vast Roman empire which ruled over ancient Europe and parts of the Mediterranean, was also reigning over Judea, Sameria and Palestine. Christ was born at a time when the Roman empire had become too vast and unwieldy. The people, especially in the outposts, were rebelling against its dominance.
The Romans believed in many gods and even the divinity of the Roman emperor. There were those who resented this, like the Jews. Unrest marked many of the regions that came under the rule of the Romans, as a result.
Jesus Christ’s ideas and teachings were aimed at reforming the Jewish faith, to which the people of Israel belonged. The man who was a carpenter by trade and had disciples from equally humble professions, gave the common people a sense of belonging. His message of equality gave them self respect.
Some high officials and Jewish priests however, felt that he was trying to usurp their authority and mislead the people. They hatched a plot against Jesus with the help of one of his 12 apostles (leading disciples), named Judas.
The Jewish authorities arrested Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God, as such a claim was against their religious teachings. Thereafter, Jesus was brought before the Roman Governor, Pilate, as only he could condemn anyone to death.
The Jewish leaders told Pilate that Jesus was misleading the people, telling them not to pay taxes to the emperor, and claiming to be the Son of God. However, Pilate saw no reason to condemn him. But the priests argued that anyone claiming to be the King of Jews was a threat to the Roman empire and should be put to death.
After questioning Jesus, the Governor still did not find him guilty, but to please the priests, he said he would have Jesus flogged and released. Jesus was made to wear a crown of thorns and mockingly addressed as ‘King of the Jews’.
But the priests were not pleased. Once again, the Governor appealed to them saying that Christ had done no wrong. But when the clergy refused to agree, Pilate handed Jesus Christ to them to do as they wished. The high priests told him, “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.”
The crowd too demanded that Jesus should be crucified.
Jesus was made to carry the heavy wooden cross on which he was to be nailed, while a group of his followers marched behind him. Jesus died in three hours and his followers buried him in a cave. It is believed that Jesus rose from his grave on the third day, which was a Sunday. That day is celebrated as Easter.
Jesus’ death on the cross was followed by a round of persecution for the followers of Christ. The Roman authorities feared that this new religion would take strong root among the people and encourage them to protest against their rule. But in a few centuries, the Romans themselves had embraced Christianity.
On Good Friday, the Christians recall the pain that Christ had to go through and observe a fast for the whole day.
A wooden cross, representing the cross on which Christ was crucified, is displayed and worshipped during the religious service on Good Friday. One by one, the believers come and kiss it.