The Weight of Good Friday: Chapter 23 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

by Stacey Gleddiesmith

Good Friday.

The day when hope falters and darkness seems to triumph.

Joan Chittister describes the pain of second-century Israel: “the grief was still raw. After all, they were still waiting for His return, then and there. And in the midst of the wait, the desolation inspired a fast that tapped into the profound heartache of a people. For years, the Christian community fasted not only on Good Friday but on Holy Saturday as well…. For years, the fast was a complete one. Early Christians took no food or water at all. They fasted for forty straight hours without either eating or drinking” (p. 148).

Now, she says, Good Friday gatherings are often mere pageantry:  “something to watch, something to realize with a pang… But nothing really serious” (p. 151).

So how do we push past our momentary sympathy with Christ, and take up our cross to follow him? How do we inspire our congregations to do so? How do we preach crucifixion to a culture that shrinks from unpleasantness?

We can use darkness and silence. We can bring newness to history through creative tellings. We can hold back the celebration and take time to sit in the dark. To wait. We can add weight to our words, laying the burden of Christ, for once, heavily on the shoulders of our congregation. Allowing ourselves to feel our backs bowed and our knees trembling – Friday, Saturday.

More than that, we can fast. Having read this chapter, I feel a fresh urgency to observe Good Friday by taking in nothing but the death of Christ. I need the gnawing in my belly that will, in Chittister’s words “whet the need for the return of Jesus to our own lives.” The fast of Good Friday, she says, “means to concentrate us on the moment, to be there nagging at us in the midst of our distractions, to keep us keenly aware of what the spiritual life is meant to be about” (p. 151). I need that. Desperately.

So I invite you to fast with me. Or, if not to fast, to solemnize this day in another way. I invite you to share, here, your experience of Good Friday – the weight that was laid upon you – that we may fully experience together the lightening of Easter morning.


  1. Difficult to imagine the weight of my own sin upon His shoulders, much less the sins of the world. Thank you for your faithful reminders during this season and this day of solemn remembrance.


  2. Me too, Stacey. Breakfast had passed by the time I read this chapter, but lunch hadn’t, and still hasn’t. The gnawing need, transposed into hunger for Christ, is still growing – but already it makes life uncomfortable, difficult. A 3-hour vigil of meditations, readings, and silence (lots of silence!) in a chilly room was going to be difficult anyway. But not nearly as difficult as the cross. Not nearly as uncomfortable. Not even as hard as the pain of those who stayed with the Unwanted One, the Political Problem, the Failed Messiah. He may look abandoned by God, and useless to his people, but for the Maries, for John, there was nothing and no-one else. Life and reputation weren’t worth having at the expense of losing Jesus, even (especially) when He was needy, embarassing, unfixable. It’s long overdue that I join them; too long have I been glad to ‘get back to real life’ and ‘enjoy the holiday weekend’ after easter services. Hard question for me was: do I love Him enough to stay?


    1. That is a hard question – and it’s even harder when everyone else is ready to party-it-up on the long weekend… and you don’t want to be the sanctimonious git (can I use that word on this blog?) that makes everyone feel guilty – and you also want to join in the fun. I’m thankful that my family event was moved from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday – but I confess that I’m not sure what to do with the fact that our church is having a potluck dinner after our Good Friday service tonight – followed by games at someone’s house. And I – well – I poured my morning coffee before I remembered that today is Friday. So we do what we can with the time that we’re given, I think. I once read a devotional on meditation (I wish I could remember by who) that said when you get distracted, when you mess up – you simply need to turn around and offer that broken worship back to Christ. Thank goodness he accepts it!


      1. ‘Git’ is definitely at the mild end of the language spectrum I grew up with – and perfectly valid in this context…
        Even Jesus practised hospitality from the cross, forgiving, consoling, and thinking of those left behind. So maybe we can stay ‘with him’ in continuing to extend consolation, hope, and future promise to those He loves – and if anyone can do that through the medium of dinner and games, I’m sure you can. You’ve always had quite the way of turning social events into safe places for the lonely…


        1. Thank you Ian – what an absolutely lovely compliment! And you’re right, of course. We “stay with” Christ (as you put it) most by being like him. Also, our Good Friday, our Holy Saturday, can never be completely devoid of light. Not living, as we do, after the resurrection. It would be wrong to utterly forget, in the midst of the darkness, that the light has already come. I wonder if that is why the Eucharist is the climax of Good Friday, as Chittister says? Because it is necessary even as we mourn with the disciples, even as we descend into darkness, that we celebrate his presence, now, with us, in us – in all his resurrected glory.

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