The Good Friday on which I truly mourned

Good Friday is a difficult holiday. Like Yom Kippur, it’s not something one “celebrates.” It’s something one “observes.” Tenebrae services are somber, yet once they are over, it’s easy to go home and return to “normal” life.

That day, and the day that follows, should be ones of solemn contemplation. Yet we get up and go to the grocery store or whatever and carry on as if nothing had happened.

We go from bearing witness to the crucifixion to shopping for Cheerios as if the most important thing in the history of the faith weren’t going on around us.

The first-century disciples were in hiding that Saturday. They feared for their lives and believed their beloved Rabbi was dead.

Of course, we know better. We know how the story ends, so it’s easy enough to kick back on Saturday afternoon and watch Mythbusters reruns. Then we rise on Sunday morning, again, knowing the end of the story. We put on our fancy hats and sing “Up from the Grave He Arose” and eat Danish and coffee in the fellowship hall.

All of that is great. We are New Testament people who know our Redeemer lives. Easter is a time for celebration.

But Good Friday…it’s still a day to mourn.

Statue of the Crucifixion of Jesus outside Campion Hall, Oxford, England. Photo by Gownley • Wikimedia Commons

Statue of the Crucifixion of Jesus outside Campion Hall, Oxford, England. Photo by Gownley • Wikimedia Commons

I learned this keenly one year when I played Mary the mother of Jesus in a Good Friday worship drama. I didn’t have any lines, as such. The whole of my part consisted of crying. Of mourning. Enter, wailing. Collapse center stage, weeping (quietly, while the choir sings the anthem). Exit, sobbing.

I have no great claim to any acting skill at all, just a few years of high school drama classes. But I knew that to get in character for this part, I couldn’t fake it. I had to really be crying and sobbing. In real life, I cry at the slightest provocation, but when over a hundred people are watching, it’s hard to keep it up. To sustain it, I’d have to mentally put myself in Mary’s head.

I had to imagine my son—my own flesh and blood son—crucified.

To this day, the thought upsets me.

It’s a horrific thing to imagine.

But it happened.

Mary’s son—her own flesh and blood son—crucified.

I’m brought to tears just imagining the possibility. She must have been shredded to the core of her being.

I’ve heard preachers say God the Father knows what it’s like to lose a child, because his Son died. I don’t believe it. The Father knows the end of the story. He knows how it will turn out.

Mary did not. As far as Scripture tells us, she had no angelic visitation to tell her everything would be all right. She spent that Saturday mourning like no one else on earth.

After that Good Friday service, I ducked out of the sanctuary and drove straight home. I didn’t want to see anyone. I could not speak into the aftermath of it. I broke a date with the neighbors because I could not bear the idea of eating Chinese food and watching Battlestar Galactica while I mourned my crucified Lord.

So I holed up at home and grieved. I think it’s the only time I’ve ever truly spent the time from Good Friday to Easter Sunday mourning.

That experience, that perspective, gave me a new appreciation for what Jesus has done for me. It gave me a new outlook on Holy Week, and especially this dark time between the crucifixion of our Lord and the dawn of Resurrection. I hope my sharing it will do the same for you.

So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.—Matthew 27:59–61


About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

7 comments on “The Good Friday on which I truly mourned

  1. Before my husband and I became Catholic, our Lutheran church had a Tenebrae service on Good Friday and it was traditional that you not speak from the moment you left the church until you got home. I felt exactly the same way the first time I saw the Passion of Christ. We went into the theater and people had popcorn. I thought, this isn’t a popcorn movie. We had just adopted a little boy and when Mary saw Jesus fall while carrying his cross and remembered back to him as a little boy, I totally lost it. To this day when I think about that, I fall apart again.

    Now, as Catholics, our big emotional service is Maundy Thursday because they take the Blessed Sacrament, the True Body, Blood and Divinity of Jesus, process it around the church, then take it away. Jesus has left us. The choir sings, Stay with me, Remain with me, Watch and Pray, over and over as the Sacrament is set on display away from the altar for people to pray all night.

    Then we go next door and have gumbo. Always find that odd.

    This year I’m sick and missed last night’s service. My husband, whose in the choir, came home singing that song, and I was so sad that I had to miss it. I totally understand what you’re saying.

    In our church we attended in PA, the tradition is that you are silent from 12-3 on Good Friday, no TV, no electronics. It’s hard to maintain with a pre-teen boy with ADHD, but I try.

    Thanks for this.

  2. Once I played Mary and my son played Jesus. We had to watch silently. I wanted to scream. It was a powerful experience.

  3. Kristen – I have different take on God’s Fatherly sorrow: knowing that Jesus will rise again would not one bit reduce the Father’s horror, grief and pain of watching His Son betrayed, abandoned, mocked, flogged, and crucified. Jesus is as Holy as God the Father. For a Holy Father to watch His Son suffer at the hands of sinners may be impossible to comprehend. I believe God, the Father suffered. A loving, Holy God could do no less. Mary’s suffering was real, as well. Each was seeing Jesus’ suffering from their perspective. I believe God the Father’s heart was broken by what His Son endured for the Father’s Will to be done. Thank God Jesus surrendered to the Father or we’d have nothing to celebrate tomorrow. Happy Easter.

  4. I totally feel you. Here’s my poetic reflection of Good Friday leading to the Resurrection.


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