A Jewish friend posted on Facebook last week, “I told someone, ‘Have a good Good Friday!’ and was told that’s not how it works. Why is it called Good Friday then?”
On Good Friday Christians remember Jesus’ suffering and death. In middle and high school, I helped reenact the events of Good Friday with my youth group. We sang, read and acted in a dark sanctuary.
I was Mary one year. I stood watching as my friend, who was Jesus, was laid on a large wooden cross. Other young men pantomimed nailing his hands to the wood. After he was taken down from the cross, I sat and cradled his limp body in my arms.
I remember my sadness and grief watching the story unfold each year. I remember the haunting songs and dimly lit faces. I knew it was important, and I knew it was good to be there.
Last week on Good Friday, I took my baby daughter Alicia to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. We walked up to the front with the others, knelt, and she touched the cross with me.
I knew it was important, and I knew it was good to be there. I did the best I could to explain why, whispering to Alicia about how God loves us, how Jesus showed us this Love on the cross.
Later that day I went on Facebook and saw my friend’s question. Initially I was at a loss.
Why do we call it Good Friday? There is pain, suffering, death. We see Mary grieve, holding her son. It is a day about Jesus dying. What makes any of this good?
I co-led a retreat a few years back for young adults in New York City. We used the paradigm of the Triduum to reflect on transitions in our lives.
The Triduum is a set of three holy days: first Good Friday, Jesus’ suffering and death. Next comes Holy Saturday, when his friends waited in hope. The Triduum concludes with Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the tomb to new life.
On the retreat we talked about how our own transitions reflect these parts of the Easter story.
Good Friday is the hard part. It’s loss, grief, pain, suffering, loneliness, despair, disappointment, rejection, separation. At the time you might not even realize it is part of a transition.
Holy Saturday is the in-between, the liminal space. On the retreat we called it “Waiting in Hope.” It’s when you’re recovering from pain, beginning to emerge from your dark night of the soul. You know or trust something else is ahead, but you’re not there yet.
Easter Sunday is new life. It is new beginnings. It is rising from the ashes like the phoenix. It is a time of joy, light, celebration, gratitude, faith.
Easter Sunday is when you realize you have been in a transition and recognize all the pieces for what they were. It’s the chance for hindsight, to turn around and say, “Oh! If that hard part hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here now.”
It’s when you can be grateful for the Good Friday. It’s when you see how it was good.
Initially becoming a mom was almost all Good Friday for me. I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety for months.
I was healing from delivering my baby; I had a significant perineal tear. Breastfeeding was new and confusing. I had a yeast imbalance and adopted a strict diet for nine weeks to resolve it.
My husband and I were sleep-deprived, stressed, and bickering with each other. My mood affected his, and we were both sad. I remember thinking I had lost my happy marriage.
I was consumed with caring for my baby, worrying about her and if I was mothering “right.” I had panic attacks getting in the car with her. I worried that I wasn’t bonding with her.
I felt bad because I saw everyone else’s happiness in my daughter, yet I was struggling. I thought there must be something wrong with me to be having such a hard time.
I remember thinking: Is this what motherhood is going to be like for me?
I didn’t see that I was in a transition. I didn’t see how it would lead to something more.
There were Holy Saturday moments mixed in there. I remember when I saw my spiritual director Maureen. It was a couple months after I gave birth to Alicia.
I told Maureen about how I hadn’t bonded with my baby at birth the way you’re “supposed” to. Our birthing classes had presented an easy, instant bond. They said the critical moment is when baby comes to lie on your chest right after birth and starts to nurse on her own.
Alicia’s birth hadn’t been like that. She emerged covered in thick meconium and the doctors were concerned it was in her lungs. They took her away to inspect her and I had to wait.
I feared we were not connected as we should be, having lost this critical bonding opportunity. I sobbed as I told Maureen how I worried that I didn’t feel closer to my baby.
At the close of our time together, Maureen watched as I laid Alicia down gently to change her. I had learned to not spook her by picking her up or putting her down too fast.
I talked to Alicia while I changed her. I picked her back up carefully. Once in my arms, Alicia clung to me like a little monkey. Unconsciously I swayed with her as I turned to say goodbye.
Maureen hugged me and drew back to smile at us. She said, “Oh my goodness, look at you two! You are so bonded. I can’t believe you would think anything else.”
She held out hope for me.
Another Holy Saturday moment was in San Francisco on a sunny Saturday. My husband and I realized we could still go and do things we wanted to, and bring Alicia along for the ride.
We were on a pier and it was sunny. Seagulls called, sailboats whisked past. Other families and couples strolled by.
I heard a woman calling out and I turned to look. She was older than me, with dark shoulder-length hair and a wide smile. She knelt down and opened her arms wide.
As I watched, a little girl ran toward her. She was three or four years old, skipping, hair flying behind. She flew down the pier and into her mom’s waiting arms.
I saw mother embrace daughter, both laughing. It was a picture of love and joy.
I remember thinking, “Alicia and I will be like that some day. She is so small now. This is now, and we are still adjusting. Another time will come, when we will feel more connected.”
It wasn’t my reality yet, but I had a glimpse. I was hopeful.
There were Easter Sunday moments mixed in, too. I introduced my daughter to my parents - joy of joys. We presented her for baptism on a beautiful day. Many people came to celebrate.
My husband and I experimented with ways for me to get more sleep. We found a way for me to have protected sleep, by sleeping in my own room with earplugs and white noise, door closed.
I didn’t wake up to pump; I slept as long as my body would let me. I remember the day I woke up after the second full of sleep in a row. It was like coming back to being me: Easter Sunday.
We took pictures with our baby, a new family of three, and sent them out in the mail. It was a struggle to do it but we did, little by little. My friends said how much they loved receiving them.
We traveled to the East Coast and Alicia met her godparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. We spent a day with my college friends. I was relaxed, encouraged and supported.
The Easter Sundays shone during the hardest parts.
I didn’t have a linear, direct path to my Easter Sunday. I didn’t leave Good Friday with a bang, spend some time in Holy Saturday hopeful mode, and then joyfully cross a finish line.
It was, and continues to be, two steps forward and three steps back.
I have meltdowns and tearful conversations with my husband. I navigate fears and doubts about my abilities and professional goals. I struggle to maintain focus and positive energy.
While I am at Easter Sunday often now, I dip in and out of the other two as I try to stay there. When I talk to other people in recovery, they say this is often their experience as well.
My friend Sarah reminds me, “God is not linear.” Neither is my transition.
I write this on Easter Sunday. At church this morning the children left and came back with a cross they had decorated with flowers. We took a picture as a family for Alicia’s first Easter.
The pastor spoke of how we often focus on the Good Friday part of the story, how Jesus died to redeem our sins. He noted that focusing on that can keep us in the past, recounting our failings.
He described Easter as an invitation to a more joyful future together; Easter as a call to grow in compassion; Easter as a reminder of the Love that is always with us and was always with us.
If Love is always with us, does that mean it is with us on our Good Fridays? Is that part of why they are good?
Easter Sunday is when you realize you have been in a transition and recognize all the pieces for what they were. It’s the chance for hindsight, to turn around and say, 'Oh! If that hard part hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here now.'
Today is Easter Sunday. Now I can look back and see the transition.
I look back, and I see the good. I see the cards friends sent, caring phone calls and meal deliveries. I see how my parents labored to get Carlos, Alicia and me through the first weeks.
I recall baby gear and advice given with love, friends who encouraged us as we traveled across the country. I remember the doctors and nurses who helped me heal from labor and feed Alicia.
I see how I started recovering from anxiety and depression because my husband accepted, accompanied, and assisted me. He cared for himself so he could take care of me.
I kept recovering because two therapists, a spiritual director, my sister, my mom, my neighbor, my friends and my husband listened to me and helped me.
They helped me leave the house, get the gear I needed, and try new approaches to breastfeeding. They invited me to practice mindfulness and to root in my faith.
This is my team. It’s a big, beautiful one.
My team helped move me from Good Friday into Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
That is why my Good Friday was good. I was not alone. I didn’t always see or appreciate it at the time, but I wasn’t. In the darkest, hardest parts, I was held, loved, and led.
Even when we can’t see it, even when we forget - we always are.
Love with us, God-with-us is one of the names for Jesus: Emmanuel. It’s who we sing about at Christmas. It’s who we are grateful for at Easter.
After Easter Sunday, Jesus visited his friends. They were surprised, they did not recognize him. He was transformed by his transition into new life.
On my Easter Sunday, I am transformed by my transition. I am made anew by my Good Friday. I have healed and I keep working to heal, so that I can accompany others in their transitions.
From the suffering and pain of Good Friday, Jesus was able to rise.
From the suffering and pain of my Good Friday, I am able to rise - stronger, wiser, more grateful. Grateful, even, that it all happened.
That’s why Good Friday is good.