My annual plunge into death
This is my 50th Good Friday and I still had to look up why it is called ‘Good’. My brain like so many others is one track and thinks, “How can it be good when look what happened?” I am sure I have looked it up before yet if I have I also forgotten again.
Of course, the word ‘good’ means ‘Holy’ in this context. Maybe that is it, we have a need to remind ourselves of what something means. If I don’t do something often enough I don’t remember. Computers come to my single-track mind. Too many passwords and just when I have remembered it has to be changed. If I don’t use a process often enough I forget until I do everything I always do to remember which is usually a few failed attempts but in doing the failed attempts that I do every time I forget I begin to remember ( did you get that?)
Like so many things in our lives, Easter is one that stirs in our psyche. Well, it will only stir if it has any meaning for you. But I think most of us will understand as most of us have been brought up with at least one or two significant holidays in our mind. It may be a holiday it may just be a season or a time when your family always did something at a certain time of year or not. Whatever that something was if it became important to us we are likely to recall throughout our lives.
So Easter is a time I associate with death. Now that is not a surprise as the central figure of the Easter story dies well he definitely dies on Holy Friday. At one level certainly, I remember as a child I was aware that he, they called him Jesus in English, died for me. Of course, to understand why anyone needed to die for me I had to understand previous episodes of the story. One of which was that when I did not do good things as a child it was because I was yielding to something called sin. The wrong things were ‘sin’ as they were not wholesome and to the benefit of all. So sin was living in a way that was not helpful to me and others. Selfishness is probably the current equivalent to what sin means.
Mixed in with my childhood imagination was that the creator had worked out a plan like a Hollywood movie to save us, redeem us, stop us from dying at least spiritually. The plan materialised in his son who came to earth to live as a human and it would seem the test for him was to live above the sin nature. By not succumbing to it, he beat it. His life as is ours was tested regularly in relation to the question, ‘Are we living for the betterment of all or are we choosing to benefit only ourselves?’ In beating it he was able to free us as he had not become, as we, a prisoner to it.
Now you may be thinking, “Great story ‘g’ but do you believe this?” Well, somewhere I think I must as I have spent a great part of my life trying to live as I have been taught by the Teacher. And there is something about it that rings true and gives me meaning.
That brings me back to Easter and why I am even writing this. I knew it was Good Friday as a child in North Armagh when all the pubs were shut and those who had need of the substance would knock on the window of Ronnie May’s otherwise known as ‘The Criterion Bar’ and somehow disappear up a back alley. It felt solemn as if someone had died but I wasn’t going to the funeral. It was what you may call a ‘you didn’t know what to do with yourself day’.
It was in living in England that I became aware of the Good Friday three-hour service from 12 noon to 3 in the afternoon, the hours it is alleged that he hung on the cross. It is split in two to facilitate those that wish to partake but are more short distance worshippers than long. I for a few years stayed for the first half or perhaps entered at the second. When my daughter was old enough I experimented with the full 3 hours. Time fell away as I plunged through the liturgy into my deepest feelings of grief. Grief gathered from the past and indeed the present. Yes, I was entering into Christ’s death on the cross but it was through my own grief. I could only feel it as deeply as I felt my own death.
So what began as a story in childhood became part of my story and part of my ritual each year on Good Friday to reflect upon the dark shadows of my life and experience fully the grief that has accumulated.
For these who know, the story does not end with Good Friday, there are a few more episodes to go. It is my experience that as I journey through the Easter story this weekend that my grief will die and give way to a newness of life.