Good Friday reflection: when our life began again

[No pdf version]

Chris Cheah
21 March 2008

I recently had someone ask me what was so 'good' about Good Friday. Which is indeed a good question! Because maybe the most shocking thing of all about Good Friday is the way it invites us to see death as both intensely real and shocking, but that in those real deaths also lie the necessary source of hope, for us, for new life.

Those of you who were here for the first hour you may remember that the refrain of the first Robin Mann hymn (TIS 357). This ended each verse with line : "when our life began again". For example, the first verse went :

When his time was over,
the palms lay where they fell.
As they ate together, he told his friends farewell.
Jesus, though you cried out for some other end,
love could only choose a cross
when our life began again.

"When our life began again". This elegantly points to the paradox that is Good Friday. Today is the day when the forces of evil triumph—the day when the darkness really does stamp out the light. Yet it is the very act of destruction that creates the conditions for the new life to follow.

There were many deaths on that awful day. While Jesus' physical death was the most obvious, in fact just about everything about his life went down with him, and I wonder whether maybe some of the other psychological deaths were worse.

I was mentioning to a lapsed Catholic friend earlier this week that one of the things about the Passion story is that we see Jesus confronting and enduring pretty much every one of humanity's big primal fears one by one. She hadn't thought of it that way and was clearly a little shocked as I went through these in summary form.

Jesus started off by facing what is perhaps the biggest practical fear of all—that of anticipating what is to come—in Gethsemane. Then he confronted about as directly as one could imagine :

Yes, Jesus died that day. Really died. It was the day His life began again. But there were other deaths too.

Most obvious maybe was the inner death of the old Simon Peter, the alleged 'rock', but in practice the thickest of a pretty thick lot of disciples, and the one who in particular never understood what Jesus was saying or doing. Nevertheless, up until Good Friday, Peter had had one great personal quality he could fall back on and define himself by—and that was his loyalty and devotion. It was Peter who had most loudly proclaimed at the last supper, and undoubtedly meant it, that he would never betray Jesus. And then he heard the cock crow. Surely something in the very core of who this Peter was completely cracked and died that day. The central characteristic that he defined his sense of self by, simply wasn't there in its time of testing. In the darkness, and in that fearful time, he collapsed, then snapped. But then maybe Peter calls down his fate upon himself. Remember that in St John's version of the Passion story we heard today, Peter says only three words, albeit twice : "I am not". The very form of that denial is prophecy. And if Jesus in St John's gospel is the great I AM then Peter's denial goes very deep: I. AM. NOT. On the day Peter's life began again. Just how Peter was brought back to life, is a story for after Easter, but for today it's his inner death that we should ponder. We should hear his grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying. Whatever our most cherished notions of ourselves and our personal qualities are, maybe what is most doomed for death, and maybe what needs to die if we are to grow. It is unlikely to be much fun though, nor will we almost by definition ever be able to choose it.

Then there was the quiet suffering of Jesus' mother at the foot of the cross. One of the most delicate and tender things about our gospel stories is the way that they do not intrude into the personal. This is at its most poignant when we ponder what must have been among the greatest deaths of all that day—Mary's watching her son being killed in the most agonising and humiliating way imaginable. It is almost incomprehensible that any normal mother could undergo that and come out not being a mental wreck. And for sensitive Mary, the girl who had talked with an angel and who had given birth to the Messiah? We often think of love as a support, something that will save us and provide us with consolation at times of crisis. Well, Mary's love, her all embracing mother's love, certainly could not save her that pain. It just made her more vulnerable to having a stake driven through her heart. But, then, it might also be worth remembering that she was pretty much the only person given any consolation on that day—and that was to be given a new son, John, by Jesus, at the foot of that awful cross. Maybe her pain was too great. On that day when Mary's life began again.

I'll leave you to meditate about the various deaths undergone by the other players in today's drama : Pilate and of Judas, of the young man fleeing in the night, of the Sanhedrin, of the crowd. The day when they found out what they were made of (or what they were not); the day when relationships were fundamentally redefined. When the darkness of evil rampant cleansed them of their pretensions. When, for better or for worse, their lives began again.

And for us? How do we, who were not there, but can have heard this story many times, respond?

When his time was over,
the palms lay where they fell. …
love could only choose a cross
when our life began again.

St Philip's Anglican Church,
cnr Moorhouse and Macpherson Streets, O'Connor, ACT 2602.