Bishop Harold writes…
At about the age of 12, I remember being taken by my mother to a Three Hours Service in the local parish church. This happened every year on Good Friday, between 12noon and 3pm, the ‘sixth’ and the ‘ninth’ hour, designating the time Jesus hung on the cross. She knew I wouldn’t manage three hours. Most people didn’t. They generally stayed for half an hour or so, and then went on about their business. The service was sombre, the church was bare and devoid of colour, and the preaching was on the seven words of Jesus from the cross. But what I remember most was walking home. Life was, in the style of an Ulster Protestant Good Friday, going on just as normal. People were chatting, shopping, working, laughing. I felt as people do after a funeral. The question in my mind was this: ‘How can everything go on as normal when Jesus is dying on the cross?’ When I asked the rector, he responded: ‘That is just like the first Good Friday. Everybody was going about their business just as normal.’
Many years later, I went to the Holy Land for the first time, and walked along the Via Dolorosa (the way of sorrows), and saw the route Jesus took, as he carried the cross. I always imagined it to be a place of quiet, meditation – a road apart. But it is the very opposite. The ‘stations of the cross’ are found along one of the busiest trading places in Jerusalem. Noise, colour, smells of produce, buying and selling! Most people were so occupied with the ordinary things of this life on the first Good Friday that they didn’t see the eternal realities which were being accomplished before their very eyes. Jesus may as well have been just another of those criminals blocking the way and holding them back from their shopping.
This Good Friday it will be the same, here in Northern Ireland. For some, there may not even be an awareness that it is Good Friday. You wouldn’t know from the TV schedules. You might just pick it up on the radio, or see an odd Christian group or two carrying a cross through the streets. Even believers will not always take time to remember. That verse from Lamentations associated with Christ on the cross still resonates: ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow.’
All of this means that Christians cannot depend on the world outside to sanctify the most precious of days. The truths of Easter are most powerfully celebrated in a way which is dissonant, and challenging. We can’t blame secularisation or commercialism if we who believe choose not to give time and priority to walking the way of the cross during this week. And it is only in the intentional walking of that way that we will be prepared for the joyful declaration of Easter Day (when the shops are shut!): ‘Christ is risen: The Lord is risen indeed. Hallelujah!’
Down & Dromore
This reflection first appeared as part of an article in the News Letter, 13/04/19.