Good Friday

April 22, 2011
April 2, 2010
April 10, 2009

The Crucifixion, by Tintoretto
The Crucifixion, by Tintoretto

Good Friday is the day of remembrance of the execution of Jesus Christ.

Also called “Great” and “Holy” Friday, the term “good” is recognized as a reference to the importance and solemnity of the day’s events, though no one knows for sure though where the name Good Friday originated. Perhaps the German “gute” in Gute Frietag. But Germans today call it the more apropos Karfreitag or “Sorrowful Friday.”

Here is a (very) brief timeline of events of the original Holy Week:

  • Palm Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem.
  • Maundy (Holy) Thursday, evening: after sunset, Jesus and the Disciples conduct a ceremonial Passover meal. After dinner, Jesus is arrested.
  • Good Friday: After being brought before Pilate, Herod, and Pilate again, Jesus is sentenced to be executed by crucifixion. Jesus is crucified at noon and dies at approximately 3pm, allowing his body to be removed before the sun sets on Sabbath.
  • Easter Sunday: Jesus reappears, resurrected from the dead.

What is immediately apparent from the timeline above is that what the legal system in Christ’s day lacked in it’s ability to dole out justice (It could without remorse execute not merely an innocent, but a savior at that) it more than made up for in expeditiousness.

Today such a trial would take months merely to get to court. Indictments, motions, appeals would take years. And the span between sentencing and execution could take decades. But within 18 hours after the Last Supper, Jesus endured three state criminal proceedings, was tortured, sentenced to death, and nailed to the cross, all by approximately noon the following day.

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Today, jewelers sell almost as many crosses as diamonds.

“…what an irony that is. That we wear an item of capital punishment around our necks or in our ears or printed on our lapel. It’s become a thing of beauty, a thing of luxury in some cases, a fashion accessory. When really it’s an old rugged piece of wood that they would kill people with. — Pastor Carey Green, Why the Resurrection of Jesus Matters

Crucifixion is believed to have begun with the ancient Persians and was adopted by Alexander the Great. The Romans began using crucifixion around the 6th century B.C. It was usually intended for criminals of low or no social standing of whom they desired to make an example. Roman citizens (not slaves) were generally exempt from crucifixion, the exception being treason.

Immediately following the crush of the Spartacus-led slave uprisings in the first-century A.D., the Romans crucified over 6,000 of Spartacus’s followers along the 200 kilometer Appian Way from Brindisi to Rome.

Jesus’s crucifixion is by far the most famous of all crucifixions, and indeed the one by which the very concept has been defined in the public mind, even in the earliest days of Christianity. After Jesus, the Romans used crucifixion as a means to execute many of his early followers, a number of whom actually preferred this painful method of execution as a way to emulate their Savior.

All that changed in 312 A.D. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Emperor Constantine envisioned the sign of the cross before his historic victory over his more powerful rival Maxentius. As undisputed Emperor, Constantine abolished crucifixion in 337 out of reverence for Christ.

“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” — the final words of Jesus Christ, Luke 23:46

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The last four days of the Holy Week are also known as Holy Triduum, the holy Three Days. No, they didn’t mess up their counting. The roughly 72-hour period begins the evening of Holy (Maundy) Thursday and ends with evening prayers on Easter Sunday.

The Last Seven Sentences of Jesus

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