Over the years, I’ve been a part of all kinds of different Christian churches. Big and small. Modern and traditional. Churches with big buildings and moving lights, and churches that meet in living rooms. There is one pattern though that remains unaffected by the style of church: there are certain holidays when people are more inclined to give church a chance — and when the regular attenders are sure to be in attendance. Christmas, definitely. Easter for sure. But you’ll notice that we don’t see this same phenomenon on Good Friday.
Good Friday is kind of an uncomfortable holiday, isn’t it? We know it’s a big deal. We know Easter wouldn’t have been possible without it. But our tendency is to kind of gloss over the day as we prepare for the big celebration to come. It’s almost like a defense mechanism against having to face the reality and brutality of what transpired.
When we dive into the story of Good Friday, we have to acknowledge our own sin and guilt. We read of Judas’ betrayal and Peter denying Christ, and it’s a stark reminder that we’re guilty of the same. We read of Jesus’ gruesome death, and we know it was for us. This isn’t a holiday-lights or bright-colored-eggs day. This is a hard day — a dark day. And we’re afraid of sitting in our shame — we don’t want to get stuck in remorse.
But there’s another option: repentance. And while they begin in a similar spot, remorse and repentance couldn’t be more different.
Remorse is feeling guilty; it’s mourning the consequences more than the sin itself. It’s dwelling in discouragement and despair. It’s when we feel bad, but don’t change. We see remorse in Judas, who betrays Jesus to pad his own wallet. When the guilt sets in, Matthew tells us that Judas is “full of remorse.” He throws the blood money into the temple and hangs himself. Remorse leaves you in a downward spiral.
By contrast, Paul, in a letter to the Corinthian church, tells us that “repentance leads to salvation and brings no regret.” When we repent, we acknowledge our own sin, apologize, and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation. We are changed and refined. We see this in Peter’s actions. In John 18, we find him slinking in the background, vehemently denying association with Jesus. As the rooster crows, Peter realizes what he’s done, and we read that he “went outside and wept bitterly.” It’s only a few days later that he’s searching the empty tomb for his Lord, reconciled to God, even going on to be a pillar in the early church. Peter wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a changed man — one with a mission.
This is what true repentance does: it turns us toward Jesus, wipes the slate clean and leads us back to life.
How will we respond to Good Friday? Will we stifle the guilt within, dwelling in despair and self-destruction? Or will we turn our eyes toward Jesus? Let's receive the forgiveness he extends to us right now, and let him lead us to full life, acceptance, and purpose.