The Judas Kiss by Gustave Doré, 1866

The Judas Kiss by Gustave Doré, 1866

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, the day on which Christians annually observe the commemoration of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

As a child, I never understood what was “good” about the day that was being remembered.

I discovered much later several things about the day. First off, Good Friday is called “good” only in English. We don’t really know the origin of the name but some say it is from “Gottes Freitag” meaning “God’s Friday” or from the the German Gute Freitag. The Anglo-Saxons called it Long Friday. In other countries, it is known not as “good” but as Holy Friday, Black Friday, Great Friday, Long Friday, and Silent Friday.

The Gute Freitag explanation seems weak because Germans call this day Karfreitag meaning Sorrowful or Suffering Friday.

In the early days of Christianity, it was questioned whether or not to observe Jesus’ death. Until the 4th century, Jesus’ Last Supper, his death, and his Resurrection were observed in one single commemoration on the evening before Easter. But since then, these three events have been observed separately, with the Resurrection considered the pivotal event and celebrated as easter.

The phrase “Good Friday” does not appear in the Bible. The word Friday isn’t in the Bible. Actually, the days are called by numbers. The seventh day is the Sabbath and the other days are first, second, third and so on.

Our Good Friday has been seen since those early days as a day of sorrow, penance, and fasting.

There was also controversy concerning when the events should be celebrated. According to the Jewish calendar, Jesus died on 15 Nisan, the first day of Passover. Translated to the Gregorian (Western) calendar, that would be April 7. Christians determined not to commemorate it on a fixed date and followed the varying date of the Jewish Passover which conforms to the Jewish lunisolar calendar (rather than the Gregorian solar calendar).

That connected Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples on the evening before his Crucifixion to the Passover seder. Despite this “inaccuracy,” this dating has continued making Good Friday (and so, Easter) fall between March 20 (the first possible date for Passover) and April 23.

Easter occurs two days later and is calculated differently in Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon. This “full moon” does not actually correspond directly to any astronomical event. It is the 14th day of a lunar month and may differ from the date of the actual full moon by up to two days.

The full moon on or after 21 March and connected to the vernal equinox makes the Paschal Full Moon an “ecclesiastical full moon” in the Northern Hemisphere and the entry of spring that is used to determine of the date of Easter. The name “paschal” is derived from the Greek pascha which is a transliteration of the Hebrew pesach, both words meaning Passover. The date of Easter is determined as the first Sunday after the paschal full moon.

To further confuse the dating, Catholic and Protestant churches say that Jesus was killed on Friday and resurrected Sunday morning, the year given as 33 A.D. The Early New Testament church did not observe an Easter holiday, but to move people away from celebrating the Biblical Christian Passover, the Catholic Church appropriated a pagan holiday of the goddess Ishtar (Astarte) who was worshiped by Babylonians and Assyrians who was celebrated around the spring equinox.

Some Biblical scholars interpret Jesus’ crucifixion at being 3 p.m. on a third day (Wednesday not Friday) in 30 A.D. After 3 days and nights in a tomb, he was resurrected.

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