I was born on Good Friday.
In 1971, Good Friday fell on April 9th, which was the day I was born. For this reason, even before I understood the beauty and the message of the Easter season, I was intrigued by Good Friday. And by the time I was 13 or 14, I finally stopped making the joke, “you know why they call Good Friday good? ‘Cause I was born on that day”.
Yup. I was hilarious.
But even when the laughter died, I still asked myself what makes Good Friday good? It’s like the saddest day ever, right? Taken at face value, it is the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion and death- not even remotely ‘good’. More like Horrible Friday!
(Disclaimer: I am aware that theologians have long explained the assignment of the name Good Friday. I am also aware that no one reads this blog for theology- or even facts, for that matter.)
Driving around seeing patients today, I was thinking a lot about Good Friday and Easter and all that its message does to restore me. The rain, and the acute sicknesses of todays’ patients, however, had put me in quite the Good Friday funk. Looking for a perk, I scanned Spotify and put on John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulder”- an all time favorite that makes me feel warm. After singing along loudly, the playlist moved on to another John Denver classic, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” (Also famously sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary...coincidence, I think not!)
“Leaving on a Jet Plane” is one of those songs that will send tears to my eyes and put an immediate lump in my throat after just the first few bars. Ever since it was popular when I was very young, and up until now, I can sing all the words but it will always ALWAYS make me sad.
When I was growing up, my beloved grandparents lived in Arizona and we only got to see them twice per year. “Gummy and Pop-pop” would fly east to visit us at Christmastime and the four Lanes would travel west to visit their home for April break. Gummy and Pop-pop were the absolute best- loving, giving, fun- and they would, bless their hearts, turn themselves inside out for our visits. It was my ABSOLUTE favorite time of year. From the moment we landed at Sky Harbor in Phoenix and Katie and I would SPRINT off the jetway to tackle them with hugs, I would have a permanent smile on my face for the entire visit. I can not remember ever being happier than I was on those trips.
My smile would, however, immediately and dramatically disappear on departure day. The routine included getting out the suitcases, packing our airplane “fun bags”, stripping the sheets and cleaning up the bathroom as Gummy insisted we not bother. Mom would make sure Katie and I were dressed in appropriate “flying outfits” (my how times have changed) and Gummy would spray one of our stuffed animals with her “Youth Dew” perfume so we could drink in her scent during our months apart. And through this entire routine, I would be battling to not cry. I hated- absolutely HATED- leaving Gummy and Pop-pop’s house.
Inevitably, every year, I would lose the battle to not cry just as we would get close to the airport. Big tears would start to spill over as my Dad would double check his sport coat for our boarding passes. In those days, anyone could go right up to the gate, which Gummy and Pop would, of course, do and they would even wait until the plane took off so they could wave through the window. And I would cry and cry. Not a “waaah waaah waaah” kind of cry like a baby, just a silent and sad hiccuppy cry that usually subsided somewhere over New Mexico.
So I am not sure if “Leaving on a Jet Plane” would play on the car radio in my grandparents’ Tornado (tore-nah-dough) or the Jet plane part reminded me of the annual Phoenix back to Newark flight, but the melancholy song is still an arrow through my forty-eight year old heart.
“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go,
I’m standin here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…”
For me, whether John Denver or Mary from Peter, Paul and Mary is singing, the image of the singer standing at the threshold of the bedroom next to their packed suitcase brings me right to the feeling of deeply regretting an obligation that is making me leave this comfortable place.
“But the dawn is breakin, it’s early morn
The taxi’s waiting
He’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could die.”
The taxi. That damned beckoning taxi. Don’t you know the singer doesn’t want to leave?! ENOUGH WITH THE HORN ALREADY!
And it was in that verse, sung by someone deeply in love who doesn’t want to leave the one they love, but answering obligation despite the tax on his heart, was what brought me back to Good Friday.
Easter has songs. Christmas has songs. And yeah, yeah Good Friday has a famous song, but I submit that “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is a song with the Good Friday message.
(And I mean NO disrespect or sacrilege by comparing dying on a cross to a business trip- really, I get it.)
Imagine for a minute if the singer of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is Jesus. Jesus, at the time of his death, was a young man with a deep love for his people. Scripture tells us that even though he accepted his fate, he was afraid. Jesus took time to say goodbye to his friends and let them know how much he loved them. Jesus implored them to stay focused on the future he had promised them, despite the sadness they might feel from being separated from him.
“Now the time has come to leave you,
One more time, let me kiss you,
Then close your eyes
I’ll be on my way…
Dream about the days to come,
When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, I won’t have to say…..”
Obligation and necessity push the singer’s goodbye, but there is no question where his heart remains.
“Oh, Babe.. I hate to go….”
Just like I hated leaving Gummy and Pop-pop’s house, just like parents hate leaving their too soon adult children at college or just like my hospice patients hate saying goodbye to their loved ones and vice versa, Jesus’s heart broke as he took up the cross and began his trek to Calvary.
Saying goodbye to someone you love can be the hardest thing we ever have to do in life. Sad. Painful. Gut wrenching. Heart breaking.
So I am back to the question, What in the “heck” makes Good Friday good?
Of course, people that remember Good Friday know about Easter Sunday. Jesus’s “goodbye” was short, not permanent and transformed into a magical and everlasting “hello again” that is the greatest story ever told.
Resurrection is cool. Way cool. And you can’t have Easter and what it gives without Good Friday, right? But is that enough to make it ‘good’? Because I still can’t stop thinking about the man- on the cross- who died- and was wrapped and buried in a tomb- that was blocked by a large stone.
We didn’t want to say goodbye to what went into that tomb.
Or did we?
Scripture tells us Jesus died for our sins. He died so that we, his beloved people, could have everlasting life.
In the season of Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter, followers of Jesus are asked to make sacrifices during this time. Give up something or give of yourself in a way that brings you closer to God and more mindful of his sacrifice. Some people give up broccoli like that matters at all. Some people give up meat on Fridays during Lent which is cool if you consider tilapia, salmon or lobster a sacrifice. Others, however, are more deeply called to embrace the spirit of the season: they may give up something that tries to hold power over them like an addiction, a compulsion or a resentment.
And I believe it is in those sacrifices, those offerings, those gestures that move us closer to Jesus, that we find the good in Good Friday. When Christ died for our sins and was buried but on the third day rose again, guess what didn’t follow him out?
All. That. Stuff.
I’ve written before about the virtues of Holy Saturday, the day in between hope lost and hope restored that mirrors where so many of us live every day. Between diagnosis and treatment, devastation and relief, Holy Saturday is where we hold space. And of course I’ve written about Easter- my blog is called HOPEspot, after all. I’ve praised its gifts and reminded us that they’re there for us only if we roll back the stone in front of our own tomb and rejoice for what we’ve been given.
For those that have spent Lent praying and striving to be a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, or a better person in ways that made them get uncomfortable and dig deep within themselves, Good Friday is for you, my friends. Good Friday invites us to throw it all up there with Jesus- put your sin, your weakness, your anger, your burden up on that cross and let it die. Jesus is resurrected but your sins are not. They die today. On a cross. In Calgary. With a man who was willing to assume them all so that you could be saved.
That, to me, sounds pretty good.