Reflection Two for Good Friday:
This day in the world.
It is a pleasure to be in Germany again this Good Friday. Scotland, where I have been this last thirteen years, threw the baby out with the bathwater at the Reformation, even though celebrating a resurrection without at least reflecting on the essential and preceding death is bizarre. Today in Edinburgh, all the main shops and almost all small shops are open, and the University of Edinburgh is teaching today, refusing to allow Easter to upset their semester plan. True, students can opt out on religious grounds from lectures or tutorials: but that takes courage for a first-year student, or even or staff. As in most of France, today is not a public holiday In the UK as a whole, the commercial and personal demands for freedom from constraint other than ‘rational choice’ did away with most holidays linked to awkwardly shifting holy days, leaving only 25th December when holy and holiday consistently coincide. How different from my childhood memories of putting crochet-lace gloves on to accompany Granny to that magnificent silent three hours in a lovely Yorkshire church!
Here in Germany, more or less everything shuts: coffee shops which open on Christmas Day are often closed on this day. Nothing public happens, but virtually no one complains, Muslims, atheists, agnostics all courteously accepting that this day is to be set aside, a necessary trough on the way to joy.
In South India, Christians of whatever stripe, Church of South India, Mar Thoma, Lutheran, will celebrate the whole triduum from Maundy Thursday till Easter Sunday. In this time of war in their ecclesial homeland, let us especially remember the Syrian Orthodox in Kerala, who celebrate Easter next week, with their metropolitan cathedrals reduced to rubble.
The Philippines, 90% Christian with an increasingly Protestant segment, celebrates Holy Week with gusto, embracing it as ‘Mahal na Araw,’ ‘the Lovely Days,’ the purifying days preparing to receive and then to rejoice over the gift of life through God’s dying and living. Maundy Thursday and Black Saturday see all shops there, all businesses, shut: Friday finds some men seeking penance or offering thanks by flaying their backs with whips, before being nailed through hands and feet to a wooden cross raised high for ten minutes. It’s easy to sneer, to say God doesn’t need such dramatic re-presentations of that first and complete sacrifice: but these men, these communities, are accepting that pain, grief, emptiness, blackness, are inextricably part of the glory of resurrection.
And the Anglican village in Borneo I know so well will be quiet today. Yesterday and tomorrow people will work, in years past in rice fields, and now in oil-palm gardens. Last night, some will have gone to church, but not many for it means padding a canoe on that dark river, or walking along woodland paths. But today, no one works, for all respect the seriousness of the day and all acknowledge the light the resurrected and ever-present Jesus has brought to their lives, taking away the ‘perils and dangers of the night’. So there will be no drinking, no loud music, no parties. No one shies away from the inevitable prelude of darkness and anxious tension as they await God’s ushering in of joy and tranquil happiness.
Wanting pudding without the first course is reasonable and even expectable behaviour in children. Accepting darkness, pain, loss of control, grief, is adult behaviour, facing up to the perils and dangers of the night and indeed of the day. It is the way of facing the Cross in the Philippines, Borneo, India, and here too. God give us each courage to speak up and teach by word and example that it is also our individual way of facing the Cross.