In college, we used to complain that we didn't get Good Friday off. I went to Calvin College, a Christian school, and wasn't Easter really the most important Christian holiday? Instead, they gave us like half a day and had something they called a "Tenebræ Service."
Truth be told, I had never seen Good Friday as anything other than a day to get off of school. Thus, had I not had to stay on campus, I may never have gone to Tenebræ, and that would have been a shame.
"Tenebræ" means something like "shadows" or "darknesses," and it seems to have ancient origins as a kind of funeral service sung during the last three days of Holy Week, and as it usually came at the end of the mass it was accompanied by extinguishing candles, leaving everyone in darkness.
It's a dark service full of meditations on the death of God, a kind of attempt to inhabit the disciples' despair on Golgotha. It was the first time I had really thought about how strange it is to "celebrate" the crucifixion of Jesus as a "good" Friday.
Attending Tenebræ helped me understand one of the few Good Friday poems I'm aware of: John Donne's "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward." The poem begins with some metaphysical musings about devotion's effect on the body, and thus on how, though his body faces West, his soul faces East (to Jerusalem). Then Donne expresses relief that he did not witness the crucifixion himself, feeling it would be much more dramatic than the already painful death of self in the encounter with God. But then the poem becomes almost masochistic:
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave. O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee, Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
If you've ever read "Batter my heart," you know there's this strain in Donne of imagining God as a violent lover - a metaphor we use less nowadays than that of "friend" or "father." But the poem is written in context of God's act of saving grace, the Atonement and Reconciliation, achieved through violence. How can reflection on such an act produce anything but contrition and a desire for purification? Donne feels small and unworthy of God's sacrifice, so it is not, in fact, masochism, but deep spiritual humility and longing that cries, "O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee."
His cry is to be made right, to be thought worthy to be made worthy of the sacrifice itself. Of course, the whole point is that we weren't and aren't worthy, but Donne doesn't write as a theologian, here, but simply as a disciple feeling the tragedy of the Cross before the triumph of the Resurrection.
The goal of this purification, for Donne, is the restoration of the image of God within him, which becomes synonymous with his very self, for it is this restored self that God will recognize or know and enable Donne to turn toward Him:
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace, That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.
There is a time for laughing and a time for mourning. On Sunday we'll celebrate the triumph of laughter over our tears, but today is a good day to remember the cost, paid once and for all but extorted from our brothers and sisters across the globe every day, of that joy.