A local church here in Dar posted an explanation (in English) about why Good Friday is called good. Their answer was that it is good because his death leads to a resurrection, so in the end it is good news. They mention that his suffering was for our salvation but are curiously vague on how or what exactly Good Friday accomplishes.
My experience is that this is a feature of Tanzanian Easter and it’s not surprising. Easter’s Friday in Swahili is Ijumaa Kuu – Great Friday or High Friday… not Good Friday.
This was how a friend explained it to me when I asked him as well. It is a Friday like no other, he said, a big day, a heavy day, an important day. The reason it is a high and holy day is because Jesus suffered on that day. That is why we grieve on that day. But we don’t grieve without hope because we know that Sunday is coming. Victory comes after Friday so we can say that Friday is good. This certainly fits with the Tanzanian emphasis on God’s power, reflected in the ‘liturgy’ of singing.
I pressed him further, saying, in my culture, we call it Good Friday (in Swahili this would be Ijumaa Nzuri or Ijumaa Njema); is there anything good about Friday itself or only Friday with Sunday coming? Does something good happen on Friday specifically?
This seemed a difficult question for him. He sees Easter as a whole movement rather than breaking it into its parts. He spoke of the work of Jesus in fulfilling the law, healing, forgiving sins, defeating Satan, etc but did not see the latter two as particular to Good Friday, with Easter Sunday a vindication. For him, the work of Christ was not limited to the cross which is inseparable from Jesus’ life and resurrection.
In this understanding the thing that makes Good Friday so significant – the suffering of Jesus – is not so much about what is accomplishes as how great it was. My Bible Study Group at TAFES Discipleship Training Seminar (DTS) over Easter commented on this too: how great and complete Jesus’ suffering and humiliation was because of the glory and status he had come from and that he endured such a fall so willingly. In this understanding Good Friday is an ultimate expression of love.
Forgiveness of sins and substitution are there, as part of the whole movement of Easter but Good Friday itself is not focused on them. Ijumaa Kuu is more about Jesus’ willingness to suffer out of love for us than it is about Jesus suffering in our place. It’s a framework that emphasises the loss of honour, the embrace of shame, the love it requires to do so. It does not cast this in the sense of being shamed in our place but with a focus on how great love must be to be willing to lay down one’s life, honour and wealth.
It doesn’t ask you to embrace Jesus because of the thing he has accomplished for you (That comes on Sunday) but because of his orientation of love towards you. In this sense, it is more relational, less focused on what I get out of it. It asks you, ‘Who is Jesus?’ rather than ‘What does Jesus do for you?’ and in return requires of you fealty and returned love. As the speaker at DTS said, love binds you to Christ. Jesus’ love expressed in his suffering takes precedence over his work expressed in his death. His work is a much larger movement of the whole of Easter or indeed the whole of his life. Indeed, Jesus’ effectiveness is essential. But when you zoom in on the Friday with its suffering and shame, it is love that comes to the fore.
‘Good Friday’ as I know it focuses on the accomplishments of that day, of ‘It is finished’. I’ve been trying to think about what words of Jesus ‘Ijumaa Kuu’ might take as paradigmatic, with its lesser task focus and greater relational orientation. I wonder whether ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’ captures it. Or perhaps ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Both of these are about who you know and how he sees you. They ask, ‘Who is your God?’ rather than ‘What does your God do?’
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.