Greetings to all on this Good Friday:
Children will often ask the obvious question (aren’t they good at that?!): why is Good Friday called “good”? On this day, maybe above all others, we remember Jesus’ dreadful sufferings and painful death. Why on earth, they ask, would that be called “good”? One answer may be that ‘good’ in past ages was used to mean ‘holy’ – so we have ‘Holy Friday’. Others have suggested it is derived from ‘God’s Friday’… It is in the end unclear. Now, I am no fan of images of the crucifixion of Jesus (or indeed of anyone else, and there were countless thousands across the Roman empire at the time who suffered such a terrible fate): they represent something unimaginably humiliating, painful, gory and dreadful. Often in Churches and in religious art, we have sanitised versions of what it would be like. We are shielded from the terrible reality. There have of course been many films and artworks that have tried to portray the awfulness of it, and many of us will remember Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ – with Jim Caviezel as Jesus: this portrayal did not stint on the horror and the violence – and some said that it was of such a graphic intensity that it could be termed pornographic. Here is one image from that film – giving us our picture of the face of Jesus for today: here we see him crowned with thorns, carrying his cross and gasping for breath.
I suppose the best answer that Christians can give as to why Good Friday is called “good” is that on it we see the depth of God’s commitment to our world: St John’s Gospel, chapter 3 verse 16 famously tells us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God in person is the one who is on the cross – as one theologian many years ago memorably said, we believe in a Crucified God. Images of Christ on the cross, if at all realistic, are never easy, but they can speak to us in different ways, and sometimes no other image will do – no other will reach into the tragedy and the suffering of our world. At the moment we are seeing such pain and loss, but we can I hope take comfort in God’s presence with us in it. That for me is the message this particular face of Jesus can give. But, as far as our response is concerned, I want to share with you another striking image, this time from the Church of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna, Italy. It is a detail from an amazing life-sized terracotta artwork dated 1463 by Niccolo dell’Arca called Lamentation over the dead Christ:
Here we see Mary Magdalene (right) with Mary the wife of Clopas (see John 19:25) grieving over the body of Christ which has just been taken down from the cross. We feel something of their visceral shock and horror at what they are seeing. The temptation we have can be to move too quickly from Good Friday’s suffering and death to Easter Day’s resurrection joy. Of course, we need to know that the story ends well, but I suggest that we also need to stay for a while with Jesus in his agony and his death, and with our own sense of grief and loss: to see in his experience the suffering of our world – a world God loves so much that he gave himself to us. A blessing for such a day as this: Christ crucified draw you to himself, to find in him a sure ground for faith, a firm support for hope, and the assurance of sins forgiven. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you now and always. Amen Fr Tim
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and check out our website too: