Revd Canon Dr Judith Maltby, chaplain of Corpus Christi College at Oxford University, who contended (in The Guardian 31 Mar 07) that on Good Friday we ought to confront our capacity to inflict suffering for our beliefs.
Holy Week . . . is a week to re-encounter the sheer narrative force of Jesus’s passion, cross and resurrection. Christians do this together in a series of special services over the week which act out the passion story in liturgy. We do this because the profound wisdom so often obscured by the church itself is that identification with the story of Jesus’s passion is not some interiorised, individualised, consciousness-raising session, a "me and God" bonding moment. To see the cross only in terms of personal salvation is, in the words of one Good Friday sermon I heard many years ago, like using a great library to look up a phone number: you can do it but somehow you have missed the point. To enter liturgically into Christ’s passion is to locate not only yourself there but to locate your neighbour there too. On Good Friday in particular, through the power of retelling and rehearing the passion story, worshippers will confront and engage once again with the sheer depth of our capacity for violence and the greater depth of God’s love in the face of that violence.
Traditional prayers for Good Friday will be read in many Church of England parishes, including for those who "are enemies of Christ and persecute those who follow him".
Although Dr Maltby agrees that "It is right that Christians in the west should pray for our sisters and brothers in parts of the world where the religious liberties we take for granted are scarce.", she also recalls a bidding from the American Book of Common Prayer "for those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others"
Yet what more important day could there be for such a prayer? I am reminded of what remains for me an arresting idea nearly 25 years after first reading something the present Archbishop of Canterbury wrote in 1982: that when reflecting on martyrdom, Christians need not only to confront our capacity to endure suffering for our beliefs but also our capacity to inflict suffering for our beliefs.
This Good Friday I hope Christians in this country will also be praying for repentance for those times when we, "in the name of Christ", persecute others. On that day, as we hear again the passion story at the heart of our salvation, we will be regrounded by grace in the truth that the absolute very worst we can do has been, and will be, confronted, embraced and redeemed by the God of love.