As this Holy Week draws to a close we come to Good Friday. In other circumstances, Christians from all the churches in Frodsham would be joining together today to carry a cross to the top of Frodsham Hill, where it would be tied to the railings and remain as the focal point for joyous early morning worship on Easter Day. Not so this year, with the restrictions imposed upon us all by the coronavirus crisis.
So what do we do? Do we rejoice in the Palm Sunday service streamed by Rev'd. Andrew Emison, and look forward to the one on Easter Day, and gloss over the whole messy, difficult Good Friday story? Or do we pause, and think about what happened to Jesus on that fateful day and try to discern what it tells us about our human condition?
Difficult theological theories about atonement don’t necessarily help. But in the actions of Jesus and those around him in that fateful 24 hours we see much that chimes with our human experience and speaks to us in the dark times we are going through now.
We see the worst of human nature: those in authority plotting against an innocent man they saw as a threat to the status quo; betrayal by a friend, Judas; fear and cowardice from disciples who ran for their lives; ultimate disloyalty from Peter, who to save his own skin denied even knowing Jesus; weakness and abnegation of responsibility from the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; the fickleness of the crowd, whipped up to change sides in their allegiance; the cruelty of soldiers who stripped Jesus naked and ridiculed him; the lust for material possessions as soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ cloak as he died on the cross.
But we also see the best: women openly weeping in sorrow; Simon of Cyrene, press-ganged into helping by carrying the cross, but doing so uncomplainingly; Pilate’s wife’s intervention with her husband on behalf of Jesus; his mother, the disciple John and the other women who stayed with him loyally to the bitter end, despite their grief and despair; the contrition of the second criminal on the cross; the generosity of Joseph of Arimathea in offering his own tomb for the body, and the compassion of Nicodemus in coming to help him.
And then of course, we see the obedience of Jesus to what he knew to be his Father’s will, his acceptance of all that was done to him, his dignity in court, his uncomplaining suffering at the hands of the soldiers, even his humanity as he feels abandoned by God - and most of all we see the great depths of his self- sacrifice on our behalf.
We see echoes of so many of these things today in people’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. We see thoughtlessness, selfishness and greed; we see anger, recrimination and complaint. But we also see great kindness, neighbourliness, gratitude, dedication, loyalty, compassion and self-sacrifice. All human life, as they say, is there.
So on this most solemn of all days in the Christian calendar, imagine in your mind’s eye that cross tied to the railings on Frodsham Hill. Reflect on the events of 2000 years ago, and on the crisis we find ourselves in today. And then prepare to imagine joining in the rejoicing on the hill on Easter Day, when we see how Jesus triumphed over evil and death, how the despair of the cross was transformed into glorious resurrection, and how that speaks of hope for us all.
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.
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts (Singing the Faith 287)
Here is that hymn, sung at King's College, Cambridge:
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.