Karfreitag: Friday of lamentation

It is customary in English to call the Friday preceding Easter Sunday ‘Good Friday’. As a second-language user, or more specifically, as someone whose mother-tongue is German, that always struck me as odd, for in German, the old word ‘Karfreitag’ is still in use, and that means the very opposite: this is the Friday of lamentations (in old high German, kara = lamentation, mourning, etc.).

Curiously, it was the German reformer, Martin Luther, who popularised the idea of ‘Good Friday’: he called the day ‘Guter Freitag’ because he wanted to stress a theological ‘retro-perspective’ from Easter Sunday – hardly surprising, given Luther’s general theological perspective. That is all fine by me – I was brought up in the tradition of the Reformation, after all.

But… picking up from the last post, it seems to me that we have lost a lot by calling Karfreitag Good Friday: that is something that is much more dangerous in English than it is in German, where at least the old word has been kept. The whole point of the ritual (liturgical) re-enactment of this day in churches today is to remember the passion of Christ: that is, the suffering of Christ. To speak too easily and too quickly of how this is, ultimately, the one thing that saves us from ultimate disaster, is shortsighted. Once again: we cannot understand Easter Sunday unless we experience the Friday of Lamentation.

Today is Karfreitag: a day of lamentation. Jesus was betrayed by one of his followers; denied by the rest; tortured, abused, and brutally executed by the Roman occupation force (and what they thought of it we can see in the sign they placed on his cross, the instrument of execution, and the description of the two other poor souls who were killed next to him that day; Mark 15: 25-27). Today is a day of lamentation.

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