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How Do Christians Celebrate Good Friday?

Updated on September 18, 2014

Key Questions

  1. What events are Remembered on Good Friday?

  2. How is Good Friday Celebrated?

  3. Why is this Important to Christians?

    A lot happened on the last Friday of Jesus’ life, known as Good Friday by Christians. When answering questions on Good Friday break the events up into three separate sections-

    1) The Trial

    2) The Crucifixion

    3) The Burial

Religious Studies: Where This Fits in

AQA Religious Studies Specification A. Unit 1 Christianity Topic 6: Festivals

These articles are designed with students of GCSE Religious Studies in mind. These articles should also be of use to the general reader with an interest in religion.

The Trial of Jesus

Jesus was charged with treason against Caesar and brought to trial in front of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Pilate thought that Jesus was innocent of the charge and appealed to Jesus to defend himself. Jesus would not and so he attempted to let Jesus go free using the Passover Custom of freeing a prisoner. The priests who wanted Jesus dead, however, stirred up the crowd and encouraged them to shout for the criminal Barabbas to go free instead.

Jesus was whipped and tormented by the Roman soldiers who shared out his clothing and placed on his head a crown of thorns. This fulfilled the prophecy made by David in Psalm 22:18 “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

Jesus was made to carry this own cross down the street of sorrows- via dolorosa and up to the hill known as Golgotha, were he was crucified in between two common thieves, thus fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12 that Jesus would be “numbered with the transgressors"


The Seven Sayings of Christ on the Cross

1) Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)

2) I tell you the truth , today you will be with me in paradise (spoken to the repentant thief who was crucified next to him) (Luke 23:43)

3) Dear woman, here is your son [to his mother about Peter]…Here is your mother (John 19:26-7)

4) My God, My God why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)

5) I am thirsty (John 19:28)

6) It is finished (John 19:30)

7) Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)

The Crucifixion

Jesus was therefore condemned to death by the brutal Roman method of Crucifixion. In crucifixion the accused is nailed to the cross- as in the iconic image of Jesus on the cross that we are all familiar with. Crucifixion actually brings about death by preventing oxygen from entering the lungs due to the body slumping forward. It is a long drawn out and painful death.

The fact Jesus willingly accepted this death shows his great love for humanity and the sacrifice he was willing to make.

Jesus is believed to have said seven things whilst he was dying on the cross- see the box on the right.

Christians use these seven sayings to meditate and reflect on during Good Friday services and worship. What insight can they give us into Jesus’ state of mind and his beliefs?

Note that if we look at the sayings separately depending on the Gospel they come from we see that Mark portrays the more human aspect of Jesus- questioning God’s plan, feeling afraid, abandoned and so on.

In Luke we see a very confident Jesus, confident of what is awaiting him and very much in his usual role of being forgiving and rising above petty human emotions. In Luke he remains composed and puts all his trust in God.

In John we see Jesus being quite practical, linking his favourite disciple (many think this is Peter- with his mother- almost telling them to look out for each other now he is gone. He asks for a drink and then announces that he is about to die. He seems almost emotionless in these exchanges and very matter of fact.

If we put all the seven sayings together we see Jesus flitting between being very godly, offering forgiveness, showing composure and confidence in God’s plan to then feeling sacred, angry and then moving back to resignation of his fate and finally placing himself in God’s hands as he dies.

The Burial

A rich Jewish man named Joseph of Arimathea had been following and admiring Jesus from afar and after Jesus was crucified Joseph paid to take Jesus’ body so that he could give him a proper Jewish burial.

Joseph had a tomb for Jesus to be buried in and he was taken there before Jewish Sabbath began. He was wrapped in a linen shroud and a large boulder was rolled in front of the tomb, The women attending to Jesus’ body could not finish the burial rites as the Sabbath was about to begin so they left Jesus’ tomb being guarded by Roman Soldiers with the intention to return and complete the anointing after the Sabbath.


How do Christians Celebrate Good Friday?

Churches are stripped bare of all their decorations for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday- the decorations will not return until Holy Saturday when Christians rejoice over Jesus’ resurrection. The focus on Good Friday however, is very much on the death of Jesus. The bareness of the church is a visual symbol of the despair, fear and pain that Jesus suffered during his trial and crucifixion.

During Good Friday services some denominations have a Holy Communion Ceremony using bread and wine that has been consecrated during Maundy Thursday’s service. Other denominations choose not to have holy communion at all on Good Friday. During the service it is common for the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion to be read aloud and for prayers to be said. However, much of the service is actually spent with members of the congregation engaging in private prayer and reflection.

Some Churches choose to run an extra-long service from 12- 3pm, covering the time Jesus would have been on the cross before he eventually died.

In Catholic Churches images and icons are dotted around the church and these are known as the 14 Stations of the Cross. The depict Jesus journey up Via Dolorosa and up to Golgotha to be crucified. During a Catholic Good Friday Service the congregation will walk through the station of the Cross, stopping at each one and praying and mediating. As the time approaches 3pm they will make their way to the middle of a church were a cross will be covered. This is known as the veneration of the cross. At the cross the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross will be spoken and worshippers will reflect on these.

In The UK it is common practice for the Churches in a local area to organise a procession through the streets where all denominations put aside their differences of opinion to be united in remembering the death of Jesus and the sacrifice he made for all of humanity.

For Christians living in or visiting Jerusalem the Good Friday service is very poignant as worshippers visit the actual place Jesus is believed to have walked, carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion.

In the Orthodox Church a picture or icon of Jesus is covered in Rose petals and buried in Church ion Good Friday. You can see this on the video below.

Orthodox Burial Service


Why is this Important for Christians Today?

One common question surrounding Good Friday is why on earth would they call it good when Jesus died? At first calling the day that Jesus died Good seems like a bad joke but when we look at the celebration of Holy Week alongside Easter we see that in dying Jesus was able to atone for e the sins of humanity and conquer death and evil; by being resurrected.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important and fundamental events in Christianity and it is what alleviates Jesus from being just a man to the Son of God. Of course the resurrection could never have taken place without first the death and so the day has been come to known as Good.

That being said- Good Friday is not a day for laughter and celebration in the Christian community. It is a sombre day when Christians try to understand what Jesus would have experienced and the fear and pain he would have suffered.

They remember the kindness and humility that Jesus displayed, when even when dying in agony on the cross he was able to offer forgiveness and show concern for others. The ability to forgive those, even as they are sinning against you even when they have hurt you directly and personally is very difficult but it is the example Jesus set and so it is a quality that ordinary Christians strive to emulate in their own lives.

Good Friday is also a day to be thankful for the immense sacrifice Jesus made for humanity and the fact in dying Jesus atoned for everyone’s sins.

Good Friday also reminds Christians to have obedience and trust in God, as Jesus did. Christians must trust that whatever life throws at them, God has a plan for them and when times get difficult there is a reason for their struggles. They must strive to put their fears aside and trust in God’s love and protection as Jesus did.

Jesus’ moment on the cross when he shouts to God asking “why have you forsaken me?” reminds us of another important belief about Jesus- that he is both fully human and fully God. Here we see Jesus being human, experiencing doubt, confusion and fear. It shows Christians that it is OK to be doubtful and to have their faiths questioned as long as in the end they out their faith into God.

Which is the Most Important Day in the Christian Calendar?

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