Celebrating Easter when it still feels like Good Friday

by Will Fletcher.

The inspiration for this post came whilst talking with my father-in-law, a supernumerary minister, in the days following Easter Day.

For personal reasons, I’ve found myself this last year reflecting on, and identifying with, the suffering Christ. I’ve discovered great comfort being in churches with a crucifix, whether physical or in stained glass, on which to meditate. They stand in great contrast to the Methodist churches with, at most, an empty cross. Through this year in personal circumstance, national and world events, it has been reassuring to reflect upon Christ entering into the suffering of our world.

This made it easier to prepare for Holy Week and Good Friday as we journeyed with Christ on that path to the cross. The cry of ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ felt more natural, than the triumphant ‘It is finished.’

The jump from Good Friday to Easter Day felt, this year at least, far too short. The situations in my life and in the world, hadn’t changed in those couple of days, so how could we suddenly switch to ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’? We were celebrating Easter, but so much seemed to scream that it was still Good Friday.

As I have begun reflecting on this (and this is only an early reflection, rather than a more rounded conclusion), I have appreciated more those early Easter experiences. The possible original ending of Mark’s Gospel in 16.8 with the women, having heard from the men in dazzling outfits that Jesus is risen, fleeing in terror and saying nothing to anyone; Luke’s account of the women being disbelieved by the eleven disciples, and then Peter looking in the empty tomb before going away to ponder what he had seen. As the disciples woke on that first Easter Day, they were still trying to process all that had happened on Good Friday, and a joyous Easter Day celebration hadn’t been on their radar. Maybe there needs to be more space within our Easter celebrations for that wondering and processing that isn’t all ‘Alleluias’ and smiles.

I value having a season of Easter. We don’t have to cram the whole of our Easter celebration into one day; making that huge shift from Good Friday lamenting, to Easter celebration in one go. It acknowledges that there may be different stages of the journey through this season, and things may not all be magically resolved at the end of it.

Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus from the cross in Mark’s Gospel, begins with that cry of despair – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It doesn’t sound very appropriate for Easter, but may provide a pattern for how we travel through this time when we don’t feel the full force of Easter joy. Those faithful people of God who heard Jesus’ cry would likely have known that the psalm doesn’t remain in such a desperate tone. Instead, the psalmist continues to believe, despite their current circumstances, that one day God will respond and rescue, and that they will come again to praise God in the great congregation. They remember God’s action in the past, and trust in that memory for future hope. In rediscovering the form of lament in our worship, we may find ways of expressing hope even in the midst of despair, and acknowledging the new life of Easter, even in the midst of feeling the trouble of Good Friday.  

Finally, I wonder whether an adaptation of another Christian tradition may help those who struggle at this time. Christians have been encouraged to see every Sunday as a ‘mini-Easter,’ celebrating that new life of Christ each week of the year. However, I wonder whether in a similar spirit, we might consider marking each Friday as a ‘mini-Good Friday.’ There are some Christian traditions who fast every Friday to remember Christ’s Passion. We may not go to that extent, but we may wish to use each Friday in some way to mark the pain, suffering and brokenness in our lives or in the life of our world. This can remind us that it is okay not to be okay, or not to be full of happiness all the time.

The empty crosses and focus on the resurrection speak a powerful message to all who come into our churches or join us in worship. But maybe we need to make more space to remember the suffering Christ, and to acknowledge the realities of Good Friday in our lives and in our world, even as we take part in our Easter celebrations.

9 thoughts on “Celebrating Easter when it still feels like Good Friday”

  1. Thank you. This is just what I needed to hear at this time. Personal experiences have me in a Good Friday place, at present, and this post is a balm to the soul.

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  2. Good, honest testimony in the article and the comment. A methodist, I go to a short Episcopal Communion mid-week which ia a balance.

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  3. To me the crucifixion is a moment in time, enabling us to touch the fringes of the eternal suffering of God, just as the short life of the man Jesus enables us to get a glimpse into the nature of the God of Love.

    One of my photographs of my late husband, taken at a moment in time, smiles at me from the frame, but it is the merest hint of the man I knew and loved for upwards of sixty years, or of our life together over those years!

    It used to annoy me, as the young and fit person I was in those days, when sermons or hymns spoke of the suffering of Jesus being infinitely greater than anyone else has ever experienced. I knew that there were countless people throughout the world whose suffering lasted for many years and whose pain was chronic, not over in a few hours of torment. I needed to think – feel – on another level.

    Good Friday has more meaning for me with every passing year, when I have had a good deal of pain of my own and have felt anguish for the world’s grief.

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  4. Easter Saturday is sometimes just not long enough to allow us to move from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. One of the things I’ve found helpful this Easter is learning about the place of lament in our Christian lives and relationship with God, where we can tell God how it really is without any gloss or pretence that everything is hunky-dory and even challenge God himself, whilst still [as with the psalms of lament] acknowledging God’s ultimate place in the scheme of things and, even though we don’t know the answers, being content to place all in his hands, sure in the knowledge that there’s no safer place to be.

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    1. I wonder if there might be more than just pedantry in pointing out the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is not Easter Saturday (that comes a week later), at least not in the Church -the ‘secular world’ seems to refer to the Easter Week-end for Good Friday to Easter Monday. The day is sometimes called Easter Eve, but that may not do either in this context. My preferred term is Holy Saturday and the tradition I was brought up in was this was a day of absence. Christ may have cried “it is accomplished” and said “in to your hands I commit my spirit” but the earlier cry of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” has not been answered by “On the third day God raised him”. I would never want to dwell too literally on “he descended to the dead” but it may be a meditation for Holy Saturday.

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  5. Our Easter hymns speak of a great victory over death and over evil. That is, of course, quite right. But we sang them this year against the background of the horrors that we are seeing from Ukraine of smashed cities and mass graves. And that is just one war and one set of civilians fleeing, having to leave everything behind and seeking refuge in another country. We know also of other areas of conflict that nowadays rarely get reported in the news – Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Myanmar and the Rohingya genocide. I wonder how many Christians across Europe asked themselves this Easter, “How does any of this fit in with the triumph of the resurrection?”

    If we think of Christ’s suffering as a transaction and resurrection as a single event, this puts most of the emphasis on what happened in what is now the distant past, and the hope we proclaim is in a glory yet to come at an unknown time. Yet, if ours is a living faith, we have to live it out in the present. It’s not just that we have to view life in the light of Good Friday and Easter; we need to see Christ’s involvement in suffering and the power of resurrection here and now.

    God’s involvement in suffering is not limited to his crucifixion. God is present in people who are undergoing pain and distress today, sharing their suffering and offering his love and strength to them. He’s with those in the bombarded Ukraine maternity hospital, with their grieving families, and also with the young Russian conscript who thought he was firing at a military target. He’s alongside us as we face our own personal Good Fridays.

    When we’re feeling the despondency and despair of our own Low Saturday of doubt and foreboding, when we are fearful about the future, when God seems very far away, we need to hold onto the fact that God is closer to us than we could ever imagine. He can work with and through our weaknesses, with and through fragility and with and through our vulnerability.

    As a child walking through post-war Liverpool I saw vegetation pushing its way through the concrete on bomb sites. A simple sign that the power of re-creation is much stronger than the forces of destruction. It’s not just about rebuilding cities, of course. Much more importantly, it’s about rebuilding lives. 50 years ago, H.A. Williams wrote in his “True Resurrection” of the need to “recognize the power of resurrection present in the ordinary gritty routine of our daily lives” where “all that separates and injures and destroys is being overcome by what unites and heals and creates.”

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  6. Thank you Will, I am most definitely on the same page as you here, I have always valued a muted and less triumphant Easter celebration, remembering that Easter Day began with grief, followed by confusion and disorientation, in some senses we are all always there, we are not in the place where all is well yet, nor will we be until every tear is wiped from every eye.
    I believe we live with a series of mini Easters and mini Good Fridays, and mini Holy Saturdays, for me this year I still feel that I am inhabiting Holy Saturday. That said we must remember that the resurrected Jesus still bears scars, a reminder and a reality. So thank you again, may you find peace in your meditations on the crucifix.

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  7. Thank you Will. Over the years I have grown to appreciate Holy Week/Good Friday/Saturday more and more. There never seems to be enough time to take it all in … and then it’s Easter Day all too quickly!
    I have often reflected that for many Christians/church-goers their experience is framed only by Sunday worship, so they go straight from the hosannas of Palm Sunday to the hallelujahs of Easter Sunday, with little or no real appreciation of Good Friday, let alone the emptiness of Holy Saturday. I’m not sure what the answer is.

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