“He takes men out of time and makes them feel eternity.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I don't go to church, and I am not a religious person, but I do find meaning in two particular religious holidays, or observances: Passover and Good Friday. I learned about Passover during college from my friend Ellen, who taught me that it was, in a way, a civil rights observance. Ellen gifted me, a novice to Jewish tradition, with containers of her grandmother's mouth-watering matzo ball soup. She also told me that Passover was the one time of the year when she actually enjoyed being the youngest of four daughters (because it is the youngest who gets to ask the four questions during the Seder).
I attended Lutheran grade school, and while everyone else was getting excited about new Easter clothes and getting a couple of days off from school, I was captivated by all the black that got draped over everything in church for Good Friday. The purple of Lent would be stripped from the altar and replaced by black, and the wall-mounted crucifix would be covered in black as well. Imagine walking into church on Friday morning and being greeted by a building shrouded in black. It had an appropriately solemn effect on me.
Apparently, it is no coincidence that my two favorite holidays fall so close together on the calendar or that Good Friday frequently occurs during Passover. Many theologians believe it was a Passover Seder that Jesus was celebrating when he was captured during the "Last Supper." Also, the date for , as established by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 (according to Wikipedia), is not a fixed date on the Gregorian or Julian calendars, such as Christmas is, but is instead a "movable feast," the date determined by a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar.As a non-worshiper, I appreciate the literary and symbolic meaning of these two important events on the Christian and Jewish calendars. This makes me a bit of a pagan, I guess. I think of Christmas as an end-of-year rite of passage, but also as the pagans saw it - as a warding off of the coming darkness of winter (thus the candles and lights of Christmas). Easter, of course, is just the opposite - a celebration of life and rebirth. But before we get to Easter, we have to get through Good Friday. Unlike Christmas, this passage is a somber one.
For practicing, faithful Christians, Good Friday is the holiest of days because all that God does for them is predicated on the sacrifice he made on this day. For me, it is a reminder that the gift of life is not without pain and suffering and sacrifice. God gave his only son. Likewise, Passover is no party. The Jews delivered by Moses suffered greatly, during captivity and after. In the end, only their descendants actually got to live in the promised land.
Of course, Good Friday as a stand-alone observance would not fulfill either the religious or the literary requirement of resolution and catharsis. It is a sacred day to Christians because of what comes after: Resurrection, salvation, forgiveness. For the faithful, Easter is about the sacrifice God made for them. For me, the story of Easter is an affirmation that life has meaning and love can save us.
Still, you don't get to Easter without passing through Good Friday. No get-out-of-jail passes allowed. It is a day to be felt. Even non-believers such as myself can appreciate the importance and mood of the day. So, I won't wish you a happy Good Friday, but in two days, it will be a different story.