Today Good Friday; for me, the busiest day of the year.
10.00 Cottage Lane Mission; 11.30 procession of witness; 12 noon open air service; 2.00 devotional service; 4.00 family event in the Ministry Centre; 7.00 pm The Messiah (part 2).
But the one which for me has the greatest significance is the 11.30 procession of the various churches in Ormskirk, from the Marks and Spencer to the town centre clock tower.
I realize that this is of some inconvenience to car drivers. For about 20 minutes we manage to isolate Southport and all areas west of Ormskirk from the motorway network.
But this is the whole point – we enter public space. For that is how Jesus was crucified, in full public gaze. That’s the whole point of crucifixions – they send a message. And the original message from the Romans: “Don’t mess with us.”
Strangely the world doesn’t quite know what to do with Good Friday. Not much happens on this bank holiday. Some shops may be open but in Ormskirk most will be closed.
And there is no competition. Not like Santa at Christmas or the Easter bunny. The shops don’t stock up Good Friday merchandise. Even hot cross buns have lost their significance in that you can buy them every day of the year.
Good Friday just stands there rather awkwardly as the first day of the Easter bank holiday weekend. We’re not even sure what the ‘Good’ means. As Wikipedia relates: “Some sources claim it is from the senses pious, holy of the word “good”, while others contend that it is a corruption of ‘God Friday’.”
For the truth is that the world doesn’t quite know what to do with cross of Christ. People realize that Jesus died on a Roman cross and that his death was in some way important.
“But here’s the problem,” writes Giles Fraser (uncharacteristically in the Daily Mail). “No-one was ever crucified for kindness. Jesus was not strung up on a hideous Roman instrument of torture because of his good deeds.
“If Jesus is just a remarkably good person whose example we ought to follow, why the need for the dark and difficult story of betrayal, death and resurrection that Christians will commemorate this week.”
Why the need indeed for this dark and difficult story?
Because the message of the cross goes against our deepest and most convinced of instincts. It says that we are loved and valued by the God who created this vast universe. If we are to see this love, look at the body of Jesus bloodied and broken nailed to the cross. Here is love vast as the ocean.
Otherwise, why have Good Friday?
For the cross turns our universe on its head, it subverts all our values, it challenges our most hallowed assumptions.
Not just mine but everyone’s. It is a public event. This needs to be said clearly and boldly in our postmodern age when your truth may well be different to my truth. Very simply the cross is the truth, if I can quote Douglas Adams, about Life, the Universe and Everything.
And the cross of Jesus is there as an event in history, and through baptism an event in my life. A fixed point from which we can safely take our bearings, do an about face and so travel in the right way.
For it is the crucified Saviour who tells us “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And his cross is my first and crucial step.