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On Good Friday

I

Avonmouth

The sun was shining as he woke up that Friday morning but the light through the curtains seemed at odds with his emotions. It had been a turbulent week. They had gathered to worship with their palm crosses and their processions, children singing and laughter ringing out. Was it really just five days ago?

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

He stepped outside and the cold air hit him like a train, shaking his senses. As he walked to Church once again his thoughts drifted back through the night. The previous evening they had gathered together. The mood was light as they ate and drank and shared stories of times past. But when they paused to hear those familiar words the atmosphere changed.

This is my body. This is my blood. Remember me.

That ancient meal, shared between friends so long ago and so far away seemed so close to them now. They knew what was coming and as they made their way into Church the silence hung heavy in the air. The words of compline echoed off the bare stone walls as they waited. Watched. Prayed.

As the night watch looks for the morning, so do we look for you, O Christ.

He arrived at Church that day with a heavy heart, knowing the story they were about to hear and dreading it all the same. This would be the day when they would once again crucify the king.

II

Jerusalem

It had been quite a week. They had joined the excited crowds entering Jerusalem for the great feast but his heart was not in it. The others were acting all triumphant, as if they had actually achieved something just by coming here but he couldn’t see it. He had expected the rabbi to be as joyful as the others but there was a tear in his eye too.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

All week the rabbi’s mood seemed to darken and he couldn’t understand it. Those angry words, hurled against the priests, the scribes, the temple servants. Doesn’t he know how this town works? These are the good guys. What is he playing at? And then there was that perfume. A whole jar, wasted! Doesn’t he know how much that could have been sold for? But what did he say?

Leave her alone.

Thirty coins seemed like a bargain for a few tips on the rabbi’s whereabouts. It’s not like anyone would know what he was doing. Would they? All evening he waited for the right moment as they shared that ancient meal. Then the rabbi leant over and spoke those words which made his blood run cold.

What you are about to do, do quickly.

How did he know? How could he know?

III

Avonmouth

As they began to gather inside, sheltering from the bitter wind, the mood was light. For the frozen few who had followed the cross through the village the smell of freshly baked hot cross buns was a blessing beyond measure. This year it was the turn of the Evangelical Chapel to lead the service and the people had turned out in full force. They heard the story read once again and the words rang out, cutting him to the bone.

Crucify him! Crucify him!

But it was the singing which jarred him back to the present. The singing and the flags. It was as if they had journeyed back too far, back to that triumphant Sunday with the palm leaves and the children singing.

The spirit lives to set us free, walk, walk in the light!

Had they not heard what he had just heard? Had they not seen the messiah, the king, beaten, bound and nailed to a cross? Had they not heard him crying out in agony? How could they think this was the right song for this day of all days?

We know his death was not the end, walk, walk in the light!

Do we know that? Do we really? Because right now, in this story, on this day, nothing is certain. In this story, on this day, all he can do is cling to the foot of the cross, far from the flags and the hot cross buns. Watching. Waiting. Praying that this is not the end of the story but knowing? No. He cannot go that far.

IV

Jerusalem

It was only a kiss. He left the table and slipped into the darkness, his mind swirling. How did he know? He went to find the priests, not for the first time and not, perhaps, for the last. “Follow me” he said, words which he himself had heard so long ago. He led them out to the hillside where he knew the rabbi would be.

Would you betray the son of man with a kiss?

It was only a kiss. He followed at a distance as they led the rabbi forcibly away. He tried to ignore the looks on his friends’ faces. What would they do to him now? He didn’t sleep that night. His mind swirled deeper into darkness. What had he done? It was only a kiss!

Crucify him! Crucify him!

When he saw what they were doing to the rabbi he stood frozen to the spot. His soul lay crushed under the weight of the coins in his pocket. As he felt the waves of horror and shame crash over him he began to run. He staggered into the temple and threw those hateful coins at the feet of those he had conspired with. As the darkness threatened to engulf him he heard them say:

What is that to us? See to it yourself.

There was no light, only darkness. There was no hope, only anguish. There was no life, only death. As his body hung from a tree darkness came over the whole land. The earth shook and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Far away a voice cried out…

It is finished.

V

Avonmouth

Reflecting back a few days later I began to realise why that song had caused me such pain. We had been living the story so deeply that year that I was unable to hear the message of hope and freedom on Good Friday. It was the wrong time. Perhaps that is why the story of Judas seemed so helpful as I tried to understand my emotions.

Judas, in spite of his repentance, was unable to see how things could possibly change. The only way out that he could see was death. For Judas it would be Friday forever. The contrast with those leading the service that Friday was clear. They were unable to dwell in Friday’s story. They had to look forward to Sunday, to make sure that we all knew the end. They allowed the joy and the hope of resurrection to drown out the confusion and sorrow of crucifixion.

The tension inherent in all our Easter celebrations is that we know the end of the story. We know that Jesus is risen but we have to let the story play out in its own time. This incident occurred because the different churches were retelling the story at different speeds. When we came together the different parts of the story clashed.

We cannot fully celebrate Easter Sunday if we have not mourned on Good Friday but we cannot allow ourselves to wallow in Good Friday without allowing ourselves a glimpse of the hope that is to come on Easter Sunday.

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