Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
In less than two weeks, Christians will celebrate Easter, one of the biggest days of the year. There are three major festivals in the Christian year: Christmas (the birth of Jesus), Easter (His resurrection), and Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles). Each festival has its own emphasis and is vital to the life of the Church and of the individual Christian.
Many Christians make the claim that Easter is the most important day of the year. However, many Christians will say that Good Friday (just a few days before Easter) is preferred. What follows, then, is a disagreement among Christians about which day is more important: Good Friday or Easter. Consequently, most Christians identify themselves either as “Good Friday people” or “Easter people.”
Good Friday is the day Christians observe the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Nearly two millennia ago, Jesus was betrayed by one of His own disciples to the religious authorities. Ultimately, He was brought before the pagan, Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, as he found Him innocent of the charges the religious authorities brought against Him. The Jews who didn’t believe in Him became more vocal in their demands that He be handed over to be crucified. Pilate thought he could placate the crowd by offering to release the most notorious criminal he had jailed. In their white-hot hatred for Jesus, they demanded all the more that He be crucified. Pilate, more interested in saving his job, gave in to their demands and ordered Jesus to be crucified, the most gruesome form of execution the Romans had at their disposal.
The Roman soldiers mocked Him, spit on Him, and beat Him bloody. Jesus was, as one hymn goes, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Little did all these people know that all this was done to Jesus as fulfillment of the prophecies spoken of Him in the Old Testament, as well as the prophecies He spoke of concerning Himself, including how He would die.
This death — this crucifixion — Jesus willingly endured so that He would pay the debt we by our sins have racked up before God, pay our debt completely, and pay for the sins of all believers at all times (past, present, and future) and in all places. John the Baptist called Him the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The “Good Friday people” would also add that there would be no Easter if there were no Good Friday.
However, as the “Easter people” would state, if there had been no Easter, there would have been no point to Good Friday. If Jesus had not risen from the dead that first Easter, then His death would have been meaningless. In St. Paul’s great resurrection chapter (1 Corinthians 15), he writes: “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. … And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” [verses 14, 17-19].
In the same chapter, Paul lists everyone to whom the risen Jesus appeared: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have [died]. After that He was seen by James [Jesus’ brother], then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by Paul [verses 3-8]. By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus showed Himself the Victor over sin, death, and the grave. As the Church sings to Jesus in the Te Deum: “When You overcame the sharpness of death, you opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.”
Such is why some Christians favor Good Friday over Easter, and vice versa, and why some consider themselves “Good Friday people” and others “Easter people.” I submit that this doesn’t need to be an either/or belief. Rather it is best to take a both/and attitude. As Christians, we should be thankful that both Good Friday and Easter happened, for without Jesus’ death on Good Friday, there would be no resurrection on Easter. And without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on Easter, the events of Good Friday would be a moot point.
As Christians we get to thank God for what happened on these two days, that we get to be Good-Friday-and-Easter people, that God “raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24b-25).
I invite you to join us at First Lutheran Church, 349 N. 7th Street, Tooele, as we observe Good Friday on March 30 at 7:30 p.m., and celebrate Easter Day on Sunday, April 1 at 10 a.m. I pray that through God’s Word, read and proclaimed at these services, you will also become Good-Friday-and-Easter Christians.
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.