Good Friday is one of the quietest days of the year. Shops are closed. There is less traffic on the roads. The air seems heavier, like a blanket of silence has been thrown across the world. As I write this, it has begun to rain, a light but drenching rain, which seems just about right.
But this year, the strange silence seems to have lost some of its punch. So many days are like this. We are getting used to the awkwardness. For many of us, the sense of nowhere to go is the new normal. The pandemic has forced us to return to the basics.
Except that is not quite true. We don’t quite know what the basics are. We are still guessing what normal means, and where it is taking us. It is great being around family, but it is not great being separated from them, too. It is wonderful to organise online catch-ups, but they are no substitute for a hug. The flexibility that workplaces have been forced into might reveal future possibilities, but not everyone can work from home and not all of the time. We are in a tunnel, and our eyes are adjusting to the darkness, but there is a light coming, too. Something has happened, and we have reacted; but we still don’t know what has happened, nor what our reaction means. We are mid-flinch.
In the Gospels, Jesus has left his disciples in no doubt that he will be killed and everything will change, but one still gets the sense that they don’t quite believe it, or don’t want to believe it. They are aware of the danger – in the Gospel of John, when Jesus says he is going to Jerusalem, Thomas says to the others, “Let’s go and die with him” – but perhaps they feel the moment might pass.
Last night, we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and we heard about Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles. Again, the meaning escapes Peter. It is clearly a momentous evening. There must have been a sense of foreboding, an air of uneasiness mixed with that all too human desire for the cup to pass, for one not to be tested, at least not here and not now. The Day of the Lord is coming, but can’t it be tomorrow? I’ll be ready tomorrow.
Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the desire to be someone else, the desire to have a life other than the one I am in. This is of course symbolised in all escapist art. And there is a truth to it. Any normal person who sees injustice wants a better world, wants to live a life free from evil. However, this desire becomes unhealthy when it begins to disfigure reality, when it encourages us to pretend that such a world already exists, when we become accustomed to turning a blind eye to corruption, lies and suffering. And it becomes cooperative in the evil it seeks to ignore when it does not hear that evil as a command from God to repent and to change.
But the cross of Christ denies us this false comfort. It is simultaneously the truth of what is and the truth of what should be, without one supressing the other; rather: revealing their true relationship, that of dynamic growth from the former to the latter.
The love of Christ on the cross bears full witness to the reality of suffering, death and evil in the world. It refuses to gloss over the real lives of so many in this world. It plants the flag of truth on the side of those that suffer, revealing evil in all its horror: deicide that cannot help but become fratricide, and vice versa.
Yet, at the same time, he has come to us not to leave us here. The love he shows on the Cross, dying for the guilty, is the deepest call on the human heart. Our eyes are drawn to his as he is lifted up for us. We know that he alone is home if we just accept the outstretched hand.
But we shy away, because that hand is nailed where it is. We have to go to him, because he has come to us. There is no other way. We have to look on the Cross and see the darkness for the light to shine out of it. We have to go limp in his arms as he did in the arms of his mother when he was taken down from the cross. We have to let him change us, let him teach us what all this means, and let him teach us how to respond. He is both God’s Word to us and our word to God.
So, in these uncertain days, let us give ourselves to the one great certainty: God’s love for us. Let these days of silence become lessons in listening. While we cannot get to Mass, let us not forget to make our daily offering, our gift of self in response to God’s total gift.
And let us do this safe in the knowledge that no matter what this gift consists of, when it is done truly and humbly with an attentive heart, when it is done in response to God’s Word in our lives, then it becomes a participation in the life of Jesus, a life that offers itself as bread for the hungry, that all might have life and have it in abundance.