We are commanded to preach Christ crucified. But the contemplation of agony and torture doesn’t ring true. The blood and guts of the crucifixion cannot be other than repugnant.
Yet it is precisely because of the death and resurrection of Christ that I’m not fearful of my own death.
I am utterly grateful for the achievements of the cross. But I find it overwhelming. Yes, I seek to live repentantly and in the power of the resurrection—but this I try to do daily. Good Friday adds nothing. There’s nothing to add to what Christ has done but silence. And thankfulness.
I resonate strongly with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Good Friday, (14 Apr 06).
A novelist, some years back, put it very well when he described what it was like to arrive in the empty hallway of a monastery in Yorkshire for the first time; ‘There is an impression of intense activity elsewhere’. That’s a phrase that comes to my mind, sometimes, when I’m in a church towards the end of the Good Friday services. We’ve had all the readings, we’ve sung the hymns, we’ve tried to summon up the appropriate emotions for this overwhelming day, the day on which the whole history of the world depends. And now the services are nearly over, there are no flowers or decorations, the church has been stripped of everything that might make it look attractive. An empty hall. We’ve run out of things to say and do. Yet it often feels just like the empty hallway of the monastery: intense activity elsewhere.
At the end of a Good Friday service, we get to the point where nothing we do will be or feel adequate to what’s being remembered. And that’s completely right, because what matters on this day is what’s done elsewhere, done by God, somehow using the stark injustice and horror of the execution of Jesus to turn around the way the world works. Intense activity elsewhere; as if you could hear faintly a workman hammering steadily away at the blank surface of human self-satisfaction and self-deception, and an irregular sound of plaster dropping to a distant floor.
And it’s not an intimidating feeling. It’s not that we’ve got an appointment we mustn’t miss and we don’t know which door to walk through or which staircase to go up. In this empty hallway, there’s nothing expected of us at this moment. The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. People sometimes feel like this when they’ve been up all night with someone who’s seriously ill or dying, or when they’ve been through a non-stop series of enormously demanding tasks. A sort of peace, but more a sort of ‘limbo’, an in-between moment. For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else.
"This overwhelming day . . ." I think we make it too overwhelming – inaccessibly so.
"At the end of a Good Friday service, we get to the point where nothing we do will be or feel adequate to what’s being remembered." This time, I didn’t really need to feel more inadequate than I already am; so I stayed away. But yet, "[T]hat’s completely right, because what matters on this day is what’s done elsewhere, done by God …"
"The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. . . . For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else." Thank God; I’m glad that God’s work in me is being done elsewhere than in busyness and anxiety. God’s work is not ‘elsewhere’ from us, even when we cannot sense God’s work.
The proper and natural effect, and in the absence of all disturbing and intercepting forces, the certain and inevitable accompaniment of peace (or reconcilement) with God is our own inward peace, a calm and quiet temper of mind. . . . Still we must be cautious not to transfer to the Object the defects of the organ, which must needs partake of the imperfections of the imperfect beings to whom it belongs. Not without the co-assurance of other senses and of the same sense in other men, dare we affirm that what our eye beholds is verily there to be beholden. Much less may we conclude negatively, and from the inadequacy or the suspension, or from any other affection, of sight infer the non-existence or departure or changes of the thing itself. The chameleon darkens in the shade of him who bends over it to ascertain its colours. In like manner, but with yet greater caution, ought we to think respecting a tranquil habit of inward life, considered as a spiritual sense, as the medial organ in and by which our peace with God, and the lively working of His grace in our spirit, are perceived by us. This peace which we have with God in Christ, is inviolable; but because the sense and persuasion of it may be interrupted, the soul that is truly at peace with God may for a time be disquieted in itself, through weakness of faith, or the strength of temptation, or the darkness of desertion, losing sight of that grace, that love and light of God’s countenance, on which its tranquillity and joy depend. But when these eclipses are over, the soul is revived with new consolation, as the face of the earth is renewed and made to smile with the return of the sun in the spring; and this ought always to uphold Christians in the saddest times, namely, that the grace and love of God towards them depend, not on their sense, nor upon anything in them, but is still in itself, incapable of the smallest alteration.
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge Aids to reflection (1825)
(Photo by Kenneth Arnold. The Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto.😉