Elements of Good Friday

It always gets overshadowed by Christmas (possibly because it’s less user-friendly), but Easter’s the central Christian festival; the heart of the whole thing is a cross and an empty tomb, the bread and the wine, death and life, and to be honest I’m not sure what I can add to the debates and the testimonies, the stories, sermons and visions of the last couple of thousand years, but here I am with a blog and it’s Good Friday and this is a crazy long sentence so I’ll just get into it. Elements of Good Friday that are buzzing around my head on April 2nd 2010:

You know who the key figure is in the Easter story? Well, yes, it’s Jesus, but that goes without saying. But remember all the pictures, there’s always three crosses, Jesus in the centre, the other two occupied by genuine criminals, and other than Jesus, for my money, the key figure is the repentant thief. He’s called a thief in the Gospels, but apparently the original word is more like ‘bandit’, and some people have suggested that he may have been, depending on your perspective, a terrorist/freedom fighter against Rome. This ambiguity over the exact nature of his crimes just adds to the story – it doesn’t matter if he was a petty thief, a murderer or a political extremist, what matters is that the man who would become known as St. Dismas was the one who, in the midst of all the insults and mockery and hate that were being thrown at the dying Jesus, asked for, and received, forgiveness. He doesn’t do anything to earn it, he doesn’t get chance to do anything with it considering he died in the next few hours, but he got it anyway. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out the messages (even Homer Simpson managed it when he decided that the Bible is a preachy book because everyone in it is a sinner – except that one guy…); show mercy to those who need it more than they deserve it, be redeemed from your guilt and history and that stupid thing you did when you were 17 that still occasionally haunts you at 3am, and, above all…

Amazing Grace
It’s not my favourite Christian song (that’s Be Thou My Vision), but it’s the iconic one, the one that’s all tied up with the abolition of slavery and release from oppression and that was sung in Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. There’s a reason for that – the idea of grace, of hope, of love and an open hand held out in the middle of all the hells we encounter – is a part of what Easter’s all about. We don’t do grace enough in our culture – we demonise, plot revenge, protest marches often seem more about intimidation than awareness, we turn everything from freedom of belief and expression to healthcare to driving to aspects of our favourite TV shows into wars and rumours of wars, and we struggle to get the message that an eye for an eye leaves everyone aimlessly groping in the dark. “I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see” takes on a new meaning – watch the news, read the papers, here we are living in a world where Pandora’s Box was opened and released all the horrors in the world, leaving hope trapped inside. Easter is when hope breaks out.

Humanity’s Operating System
The same archetypes keep cropping up across culttures and language barriers and history – the hero who dies to save the world, the dying and rising god, the sacrifice that’s made to ensure the harvest. You can put the story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday into these categories if you want, the monomythic Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell, The Golden Bough, all that. It’s like certain stories are hardwired into us and they find new expressions wherever they can. Characters from Osiris to Superman have died and come back, the whole thing’s a metaphor for the cycle of death and rebirth, spring into winter, seeds into harvest, the things that are essential to human existence. But what if CS Lewis was right? What if once, just once, the mythic became real? What if all the myths that didn’t really happen pointed forwards or backwards to one that did? Just once, on a Friday.

Love, actually
The English Defence League are marching in Dudley tomorrow. So are Unite Against Facism, which is like mixing matches with petrol and expecting not to get third degree burns. The local press has been filled with stories about how it’s going to have a devastating impact on local traders, many of whom are closing their stores in expectation of chaos breaking out. The whole town’s effectively going to be on lockdown. What makes it worse is that originally the march was going to be on Easter Sunday, but it was, apparently, changed in deferrence to the Christian calendar. Somewhere, I think, maybe Christ’s weeping over that, because Good Friday, Easter in general, is about love – love for family, because of the scene where the dying Jesus ensures that Mary will be cared for; love for friends, when Jesus tells the men come to arrest him “If you’re looking for me, then let the others go”; but perhaps most importantly, love for enemies, the love we don’t want or like, the one we react against. Somehow we think it’s easier to chose hate and live among the flames and shattered glass. Bill Hicks once said that if Jesus comes back the last thing he’s going to want to see is all his followers wearing crosses, and that’s an understandable reaction because for a story of love it’s full of torture, abuse, agony, crucifixion and death. And yet it’s transcendent and beautiful in the midst of all that. Why? Because the greatest of all those things….

…. is love.


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