A dark and dismal morning. It seems that Good Friday is once again failing in its main function as a Bank Holiday in giving us four clear days of an early spring holiday.
As such Good Friday sits uneasily in our calendar. Not a Sunday and not a weekday and unlike all other public holidays it is a Friday. Nowadays all the national newspapers are published – except for the Financial Times. Not that many of our fellow citizens would notice this.
I wonder what most people make of Good Friday, in the unlikely event should they stop and think. Why good? Even then we are not sure. Some authorities (which includes the OED) argue that it comes from an archaic meaning of the good’ meaning pious or holy while others contend that it is a corruption of “God Friday”.
And it is certainly not a happy day unlike all the other Christian festivals when we say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Joyful Easter.’
However, to coin a phrase, there is always someone. And so to my amazement this morning’s edition of the Folkestone Herald, not a publication I would normally subscribe to, leads with the headline Happy Good Friday! Clearly things are different in Kent.
Significantly Good Friday is the only Christian festival which does not piggyback on an earlier pagan celebration, like Dies Natalis Solis Invicti for Christmas or Ēostre for Easter. There is no original root stock seeking to re-establish itself.
And as far as I am aware there is – amazingly for our culture – no commercialization of Good Friday. No GF merchandise lines our supermarket shelves. No GF card to send to our grandchildren. We go straight for the Easter eggs and bunnies.
(You could argue that hot cross buns belong to Good Friday. They did but no longer.)
And Good Friday services in church feel very different. They don’t give you a lift; they are not meant to. And certainly, we don’t pack them in.
It was W.H. Auden who observed: “Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.”
For the cross of Jesus is a stumbling block. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves face down in the mud. And so naturally, given that it is there, we walk around it and head for Easter.
The cross of Jesus, his complete humiliation and tortured execution, should have been an embarrassment to the first Christians. What kind of god allows himself to be so abused, what kind of saviour is so totally trashed?
But it wasn’t.
So the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians “But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) I like the ‘but.’ It is as if while everyone is going one way, we are heading in the opposite direction.
The temptation, however, is to skip the Good Friday and head straight for the sunny uplands of Easter Day. We don’t like the humiliation and impotence of Golgotha, our culture seeks to banish sadness. We don’t do sorrow.
But for the Easter victory to be truly significant, we need to stay with Good Friday. It may be dark and dank – and our open air service in the centre of Ormskirk at noon may be rained of. But it was dark at noon the day Jesus died when only his accusers enjoyed the occasion.
And those who passed by had no idea what was happening. All they could see was just a few women – most of whom were called Mary – along with one young friend of the victim staying until the very end, refusing to be moved on. Pitiful.
So this is the day when we stand at the cross and watch a man die.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.