In second grade during our usual morning service before classes, Father Moore announced, “Today is Good Friday! Let us pray!” He was wearing the fancy set of robes and with arms widespread, he had veritably bellowed the words, implying that a “Hallelujah” or “Rejoice!” would be soon to follow.
It was my first year in parochial school, and I seriously entertained the thought that we might well be in store for a day dedicated entirely to recess to help usher in all the Good wrapped up in that Friday. I think I may have muttered a slightly audible “AMEN,” because our teacher, Miss Wright, had turned and was eyeing me.
Then Father Moore paused, dropped his arms to his side, and in a hushed and somewhat rushed cadence that could easily have begun with the words, “This just in,” gave a very unexpected, jarring, graphic and, for my 7-year-old tastes, a horrific accounting of Jesus’ death. I had never heard the details, or at least had never really listened before.
Jesus was whipped and beaten, a “crown of thorns” jammed on his head. He was forced to carry a heavy cross through the streets. People made fun of him when he fell. Then, “they nailed his hands and feet to the cross.” When he spoke those words, Father Moore paused and looked slowly around the chapel. “Nailed” his hands and feet, for Christ’s sake.
He was stabbed. He died a tortuous death, “hanging for hours in agony on the cross.”
And this was a good Friday. I couldn’t imagine what made up a bad one.
Miss Wright, in her amazingly insightful and compassionate way, leaned over, put her hand on my knee and asked if I was alright. I whispered the news to her that she had obviously missed, about Jesus’ last day (or third to last, depending upon your beliefs).
“They nailed his hands and feet!” I whispered to her somewhat urgently. Father Moore was mentioning two other people hanging on crosses when, with Miss Wright gently holding my left had, I raised my right one and squeaked out a question to the good Father.
“Why do we call it Good Friday?”
After he pinpointed me in the second grade pews, he answered.
“Because, Christ died for our sins.”
I can hear his answer to this day and still don’t have a clue what he was talking about. I raised my hand again and rephrased the question in true second grade form.
“Why do we call it Good Friday?” I had emphasized “good” to put a finer point on my point.
I imagine he was tempted to repeat his first answer, but after a pause, he said, “Good Friday made Easter possible.”
Miss Wright gently intercepted my hand as it rose for the third time, and whispered to me that “Black Friday” would have been a better name.
53 years later, I still think she had the best answer. And as I ponder Black Friday and Easter from the sidelines of Judaism, Jazz, and Vedic meditation, I find myself reciting an old Robert Service poem I memorized some 20 years ago. Aside from fond childhood memories of Easter Sundays, large rabbits, fancy hats, and happier stories from the pulpit, it’s all I really carry with me anymore of Easter and Black Friday.
But it carries it well, and it captures for me the truth of a day that had practically chased me into Miss Wright’s lap so many years ago.
A Rusty Nail by Robert William Service
I ran a nail into my hand,
The wound was hard to heal;
So bitter was the pain to stand
I thought how it would feel,
To have spikes thrust through hands and feet,
Impaled by hammer beat.
Then hoisted on a cross of oak
Against the sullen sky,
With all about the jeering folk
Who joyed to see me die;
Die hardly in insensate heat,
With bleeding hands and feet.
Yet was it not that day of Fate,
Of cruelty insane,
Climaxing centuries of hate
That woke our souls to pain!
And are we not the living seed
Of those who did the deed!
Of course, with thankful heart I know
We are not fiends as then;
And in a thousand years or so
We may be gentle men.
But it has cost a poisoned hand,
And pain beyond a cry,
To make me strangely understand
A Cross against the sky.