*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 15th of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A blessed and solemn Good Friday to those of you listening to this show on Friday the 15th of April- perhaps you participate in Good Friday service, and maybe you don’t- but let me tell you a bit about one of the highest holy days on the Church calendar.
Having done this thing for a few years (our 4th season starts this May), I have paid particular attention to those days and holidays that seem to unite the church in something- a remembrance, a practice, a superstition even… and of all the days, perhaps Good Friday is the most peculiar in its relative uniformity of celebration and the pervasive sense of superstition that comes from this day on which, from a theological perspective, God died, and the world waited in the balance.
Let’s start with the etymology. “Good” seems like a strange word for this day- some have pointed out the homonymity between Good and God - consider the German “Gottesfrietag,” which could pass for Good or God. It’s not the origin, but for Germans, it works.
Instead- “good” in its older sense can substitute for “great” and “holy,” which fit with the passion more than the ubiquitous meaning of “good” today. But, many Christians consider the great irony of the common usage of the word with the seemingly tragic events of the day.
As you might imagine, centuries of Christians have practiced varied approaches to the day, from day-long fasts- Church services between noon and 3- the Stations of the Cross, etc.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg of curious celebrations, observances, and superstitions- let’s break down some of them now.
First, it’s not an official holiday in the United States. Still, it is in places from Cuba to Canada, Ecuador, Finland, and many other countries that might not have a Christian majority today but have a Christian heritage and enjoy federal holidays (Cuba is curious in that the formerly atheist state introduced Good Friday as a national holiday in 2012 during that season of reform).
In Germany, dancing is banned- for reals- a real “Tansverbot” that, while debated still, can get you a hefty 1,000 dollar-ish fine today. The Bundesliga stops for the day. Circuses and gambling institutions go dark in Deutschland.
In New Zealand, there are no commercials on television today. Certain movies are banned from playing on national broadcasting today… think of the old American blue laws that keep people from doing or buying things on certain days.
But personal prohibitions and superstitions also abound.
A few do’s and don’t
Cut your hair. Anything cut down on this day is said to grow back stronger.
Do make Hot Cross Buns and share them with your neighbor.
So, if you have a baby today, get them baptized on Sunday, which is believed to give the baby certain healing powers.
Do plant stuff- if it goes in the ground today, it comes out strong. Make sure you plant your garlic before noon so that its healing properties will come to fruition.
You might want to go barefoot- apparently, you’ll be protected from pokies and nettles and the like
[quick note: I guffaw at this stuff, too… and then I remember we are just as superstitious but have concocted a facade for our superstitions to make them look scientific or reasonable or some such]
If an egg is laid today, mark it with an X and make sure everybody gets some on Easter (when the fast is over).
And wash your feet- keep the water and use it as a tonic for maladies later in the year.
Shave. It’s bad news to bleed today.
Don’t climb on trees.
Don’t do the work of a carpenter or a smith.
Don’t leave your meats hanging from the rafters (as was the custom)
Don’t change your sheets as that could incur nightmares.
Of course, these superstitions represent people recognizing the significance of today and trying to honor, harness the powers, or set apart as holy or…. In the face of the sacred, we tend to do silly things. I think of Peter seeing Jesus and Moses and Elijah and saying, “let’s build houses for y’all on this hill now!”.
Sometimes superstitions are merely traditions that mark one day apart from others. They have no power in and of themselves but point to something that does. And today, we point to the ultimate source of power for our own life, death, and resurrection- the Cross of Jesus, the instrument of his death on this Good Friday.
The last word for today- Good Friday comes from the crucifixion account in the Gospel of John.
And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son."
Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty."
A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.