Following a week of gatherings when we met for a traditional service,
went 10 pin bowling with our Syrian and Sudanese friends,
had a discussion on ‘(Why) Did Jesus have to die?’, when we met in the local pub,
shared communion with our Anglican friends at St Catherine’s Church, on Maundy Thursday.
We came to Good Friday when, with people from many churches in Pontypridd we gathered together for a short service, then we walked in silence following the cross to Market Square where we remembered the events of Good Friday.
This is Phil’s reflection from that service….
It is more than a little ironic that the biggest act of witness of a community who say there is good news of great joy for all people every year is a march of silence and sadness. It is more than a little ironic that its the religious leaders who break this silence every year when it was the religious leaders who put Christ on that cross in the first place. It is more than a little ironic that we call this day Good. But here we are gathered in fragile unity waiting to hear a few words about what happened on the day we killed God, a day which was for so many, a dreadful day…
So we heard that on that dreadful day two thousand years ago, on a hillside near a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Jerusalem three men died on a cross. It was an everyday reality back then, just one of many dreadful days when those in power casually tortured and murdered those who caused them trouble. It was an ordinary sight yet we believe that one of these victims was no ordinary man but God who had come to show how much we are loved through taking the form of a human. He lived a life of peace and grace and according to one onlooker the first words that he spoke from the cross were true to the life he had lived:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
So forgiveness comes before the gasping and the death. Maybe we could not cope with listening to the passion of Christ if we did not begin with forgiveness. In Jesus’ day, religion had turned forgiveness into a complicated affair. Rituals and purity laws and sacrifices dictated who could be forgiven and so be good enough for God.
Religious leaders had decided that God was to be found in set apart, sacred places and could only be approached by those who were holy, pure, good enough when Jesus came along – surrendering the set-apartness of God to become one of us, to eat and drink with us, to party and weep with us on the streets and in the homes of those who the religious authorities deemed sinners. There were no barriers to his tale of good news and grace and even as he was dying, he asked God to forgive the Roman soldiers who were crucifying him. They had not earned his forgiveness. They did not even ask for it but Jesus asked for them.
And as Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple that marked the boundary of God’s presence, was torn in two.
God’s presence, God’s love, God’s forgiveness were no longer just for those who were holy enough but were given freely to us all – soldiers and pacifists, the rich and the refugee, the powerful and the poor. On that first Good Friday, Jesus looked upon the soldiers with love, wanting to understand, wanting to forgive. Today, Jesus looks upon us all with such scandalous love – arms outstretched ready to give each one of us a cwtch of forgiveness and love.
Our second cross reminds us of more troubling words from Jesus –
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
FORGIVENESS AND COMPANIONSHIP
On the cross, Jesus recites words from an ancient song. Words of anguish written several hundred years earlier that Jesus makes his own. In that moment, Jesus was at the lowest point that any human can be. Betrayed and shunned by his friends, abused and tortured by his enemies, dying a criminal’s death on a cross, Jesus feels abandoned even by God. Perhaps you know a little of what that feels like. Perhaps you’ve been humiliated or let down by others. Perhaps you’ve suffered mental anguish or physical pain. Perhaps you’ve experienced loss or loneliness so great that your very body aches and you wonder how you can carry on; wonder whether you’ve been abandoned by God. If you have, God says I understand. God says, I’ve walked that path. God says, I am there, in the darkness with you. For the cross tells us that Jesus is the companion of all who suffer – of all who are forsaken by their friends or family, by their country, religion or even seemingly forsaken by God. Jesus understands that kind of suffering. He’s experienced it. And he will never leave us to face it alone. Offering us strength, comfort…
So – forgiveness; companionship; and hope. That first Good Friday, Jesus died with two other criminals. One decided to mock Jesus but the other told him to stop. “We’re justly be punished for the crimes we’ve committed,” the criminal said, “But this guy is innocent. So Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom,” to which Jesus replied –
“Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Exhausted and in pain Jesus still finds the strength to offer hope to the suffering. Jesus’ promise of the life to come doesn’t take away the pain that the criminal was experiencing but it did give him the peace, the hope, the joy that comes from believing that the best is yet to come –that death is not end for the criminal or for any of us. We see that for sure on Easter morning when – spoiler alert : Jesus lives – but even today, we get a glimpse of God’s glory and of the victory of love over hate that Jesus brings. At that moment then, Jesus says no person is beyond redemption, not situation is without hope for God is for us – enveloping us all in an extravagant, eternal love that transforms lives, resurrects communities and turns dreadful days into Good Fridays.
On that cross, God took all our brokenness, our violence, our hatred of those who are different and gave back forgiveness, companionship and hope. Even today, then, there is good news of great joy for all people.