This year, our normal Good Friday traditions are going to look a little different. Good Friday service tonight is live streamed. Normal family gatherings will happen virtually or not at all. My church always holds an Easter morning song service where we gather and sing Good Friday and Easter hymns. This year, the pianist will be live streamed while the rest of us sing in the small groups of our families. For a non-musical family like mine, it’s a struggle.
Maybe the extra time will give us the ability to sit down and truly ponder what this day means for us as Christians. Or maybe we’ll go about our day and forget it is Good Friday. If you’re still working (like I am) the day can feel like a normal Friday.
But I have one odd Good Friday tradition that I thought I would share with you today. I was an English Minor in college, and while not an Old English geek by any means (I have yet to teach myself to write or read the actual Old English), I love many of the poems written in that time.
“The Dream of the Rood” is a Good Friday poem written around the same time as Beowulf. It starts out with an unknown poet having a dream. In that dream, he sees the cross of Calvary, and the personified cross then tells the dreamer the Good Friday story from its perspective.
I find it a very fascinating poem in that it is such a strange mix of early medieval Christianity and Anglo-Saxon warrior mythology. It portrays Christ’s death in a way the people of that day could understand, as a warrior king striding into battle, but a battle won not by fighting but by willingly enduring a torturous death. And the poem shows the cross as Christ’s loyal thane (a warrior fighting under his leader). The tree agonizes over the fact that it cannot fight off Christ’s enemies, but instead is ordered to stand firm and let this tragedy happen.
I love the poem because it makes me think. From a human perspective, Jesus looked weak and helpless as He was nailed to the cross. He was mocked and ridiculed by those who taunted him to come down, though they did not believe He could.
Yet, He was God Almighty. He could have come down from that cross. He could have unleashed a host of angels to fight off His enemies. He did not have to stay, suffer, and die.
But He did, willingly, to save His people.
So, here is my favorite section from the poem (from the part where the cross is talking so the “I” here is the tree). I’ll provide a link to the rest of it at the end.
“It happened long ago—I remember it still—
I was hewn down at the holt’s end
stirred from my stock. Strong foes seized me there,
worked in me an awful spectacle, ordered me to heave up their criminals.
Those warriors bore me on their shoulders
until they set me down upon a mountain.
Enemies enough fastened me there.
I saw then the Lord of Mankind
hasten with much courage, willing to mount up upon me. (28-34)
“There I dared not go beyond the Lord’s word
to bow or burst apart—then I saw the corners of the earth
tremor—I could have felled all those foemen,
nevertheless I stood fast. (35-38)
“The young warrior stripped himself then—that was God Almighty—
strong and firm of purpose—he climbed up onto the high gallows,
magnificent in the sight of many. Then he wished to redeem mankind.
I quaked when the warrior embraced me—
yet I dared not bow to the ground, collapse
to earthly regions, but I had to stand there firm.
The rood was reared. I heaved the mighty king,
the Lord of Heaven—I dared not topple or reel. (39-45)
“They skewered me with dark nails, wounds easily seen upon me,
treacherous strokes yawning open. I dared injure none of them.
They shamed us both together. I was besplattered with blood,
sluicing out from the man’s side, after launching forth his soul. (46-49)
“Many vicious deeds have I endured on that hill—
I saw the God of Hosts racked in agony.
Darkness had covered over with clouds
the corpse of the Sovereign, shadows oppressed
the brightest splendor, black under breakers.
All of creation wept, mourning the king’s fall—
Christ was upon the cross. (50-56)
How are you handling this change to your Good Friday traditions this year? Any traditions you are still able to do?