Good Friday

I’ve done quite a bit of reading during this Lent about the purpose of Lent as well as some of the traditions and customs surrounding the build-up to Easter. However, my wife recently found something that I had never encountered before, the Triduum. Most people know the history of Lent. In the early Church, new converts were often baptized on Easter. In preparation for their baptisms, these catechumens observed a 40-day fast recalling Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness. It wasn’t terribly long before this customary fast began to be observed by others in the Church leading up to Easter, and the tradition of Lent developed.

What I didn’t know is that before Lent became a season of the Church Year, the three days leading to Easter, beginning with the evening of Maundy Thursday, were days of celebration. Jesus’ death and descent into Hell were celebrated, leading up to the ultimate celebration of the Resurrection on Easter morning. These days were known as a Triduum, one of several 3-day feasts throughout the Church Year. The celebration of the Resurrection Triduum waned, as Lent became a more universal observance.

The Vatican II council of the Roman Catholic Church reinstituted the Triduum as a celebration, but up until now, the Vatican has never actually explained how this affects the last three days of Lent, leaving many Catholics confused. In Mexico, many churches light the bonfires and start the parties on Thursday, going right up until Easter. As a Protestant discovering this ancient Church feast, I’m not concerned that the Pope hasn’t ruled on it yet. What I’m more concerned with is what we may be saying theologically by choosing to feast rather than fast during the last 3 days of Lent.

In his Palm Sunday sermon this year, my pastor was talking about how, for the disciples at the time, Good Friday wasn’t so good; it was tragic. However, in light of the resurrection and the understanding of God’s plan of redemption, Good Friday is indeed good. For us to look back on it with sorrow and sadness as if it was all a mistake is to misunderstand the gospel itself. Jesus even gently rebuked the men on the road to Emmaus for not understanding the significance of his death: “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?…O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”

This got the wheels turning in my mind as I thought about it. All of these ideas tie into our view of Communion as well. When we show the Lord’s death in communion, is it a gloomy occasion? Is the Eucharist a time for somber reflections and sad rememberings? Of course not! The early Christians celebrated it in the context of a feast, and it remains a feast today, when we come to the Lord’s Table without fear because of the death of Christ. The Eucharist is solemn, but solemn doesn’t mean somber or gloomy. The Middle English word solemne, from which we get our solemn, simply means customary or ritualized. An exceedingly joyous event can be solemn, and the Eucharist is one such event. However, Good Friday is a longer celebration of the same thing we solemnize in the Eucharist. Christ’s death is a thing of joy to Christians, not a thing of sorrow. We sorrow for our sins, but not for our salvation.

So here’s to the Triduum. Our family began our celebrations last night by letting the kids stay up really late and making homemade pretzels (a custom I can perhaps write about another time). Tonight we’re breaking out the wine and celebrating the death of our Lord, Jesus the Christ. It is still Lent, but the sorrowing is over. It is time to remember Christ’s death on our behalf, and rejoice in the remembrance.

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