Friday, April 02, 2021

The Last Hour

People have booked. Everyone who has booked is here five minutes in advance so we could start. Seems wrong though. An hour at the cross should be 2-3. We have a track and trace list. Socially distanced seating. A Zoom link for those who cannot be here. We have covered the pictures of the children on the school hall wall. This is peak 2021. This is weird.

I have no part to play. It has been conceived and is being delivered by a placement student from the local Theological College. He has not been to an hour at the cross before and I have deliberately not told him too much about what happens. I am enjoying being led by someone I have helped train and now utterly trust. I can let the hour carry me along, journaling, as is my preference when listening to a well-known tune remixed. This is not weird.

But it is Good Friday. A day we need to remember is meant to be weird. The Romans invented a cruel-spectacle execution for those it wished to use as an example. The gallows is too quick. Insurgents would not be put off by a quick death. Crucifixion is slow. It is said Jesus died in six hours - relatively quickly. The business of breaking the legs of the crucified was to prevent them from pushing themselves up to grab a breath. It hastened the slow death of suffocation. Those executed were not always taken down once dead, as Jesus was. Some were left at cross-roads and other public places to be picked at by carrion. A visual aid. This is what we will do to you if...

We have been following the story of Jesus from Mark's Gospel this year. 'The Tabloid Gospel' we have called our series although that is a bit harsh on a mainly eye-witness account containing much on which to reflect. 'Who is this man?' it keeps asking, telling stories of astounded and astonished crowds hanging on the every word of this unpredictable preacher.

And at some point in his life the destination of his journey became clear to him. One whose family knew nails and wood intimately. And at some point after his death followers tumbled to what his life meant, piecing together prophecy, preaching and pain. 'It is finished.' What is, Jesus? What?

The finish is of the quest for further clues. You can either conclude that life is meaningless or see the answer on a cross. A man, so clearly divine that his chroniclers called him 'Son of God', abandons the otherness of the spiritual world he inhabits to become one like us. There is no glib Christian answer to suffering, just a bow to its inevitability. Demand your money back if anyone sells you one.

'If you must bang your head against a wall...' said my doctrine tutor and hero Tom Smail '...bang it against the mystery of Jesus. Relevant martyrdom.'

Look no further.

Accept no substitutes.

Like no other.

No art, theology or music can do justice to this event. It is the thing that gives all other things the right to happen. They change meaning when juxtaposed. This lovely, messy, unfair world is a place we are free to inhabit because somehow God inhabited it once. We loved him yet also treated him unfairly, messily. We even have the freedom to ignore the story or take it no more seriously than an Easter food ad.

I don't send Easter cards. Well OK, one, but that is for other reasons. This is not a time for commerce. I take this hour (this year) and commit to serving this mystery for another year. I've done this for 37 years, one year at a time. This will be my last time. From next year my time is my own and need not be committed to anyone. Nine more months. Here you are.

Nine more months to the one who knows how insincere, two-faced and hypocritical are my hints to others to have faith. I call no-one. I invite them to investigate what I have investigated as thoroughly as I have and to work out how to respond after doing their own deconstruction.

Put to death by the unspiritual for allegedly claiming to be a human king.

Put to death by the spiritual for allegedly claiming to be divine.

As I try to make sense of the competing imagery I hear some Tallis, see a dead sheep or Christ on a cold, cold stone. And I hear mockery even now, that I would dare to find this important. Because it's not science, it's not cool, it's not very now and it's not monetizable. And I wonder if most people understand what the meaning of life, the universe and everything should look like. For what, if anything, do they search?

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John took some liberties with history. We do well to get that out onto the table. Not with the truth but with the reality. Mark took fewer. Some of the stuff they made up was designed to illustrate the truths they had glimpsed. They knew no other way.

Every now and again a chord seems exactly right in an 'If I knew what it meant I'd have said it not painted it' sort of way.

The music of Good Friday must be minor. The art abstract. The theology metaphorical (as all language is). Today is not a matter of history. It's far more important than that.


Good Friday

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